Thursday, November 8, 2007


Taras Bulba and Other Tales By Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol

Taras Bulba and Other Tales
By Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol
Introduction by
John Cournos
Taras Bulba
St. John's Eve
The Cloak
How the Two Ivans Quarrelled
The Mysterious Portrait
The Calash
Russian literature, so full of enigmas, contains no greater creative
mystery than Nikolai Vasil'evich Gogol (1809-1852), who has done for
the Russian novel and Russian prose what Pushkin has done for Russian
poetry. Before these two men came Russian literature can hardly have
been said to exist. It was pompous and effete with pseudo-classicism;
foreign influences were strong; in the speech of the upper circles
there was an over-fondness for German, French, and English words.
Between them the two friends, by force of their great genius, cleared
away the debris which made for sterility and erected in their stead a
new structure out of living Russian words. The spoken word, born of
the people, gave soul and wing to literature; only by coming to earth,
the native earth, was it enabled to soar. Coming up from Little
Russia, the Ukraine, with Cossack blood in his veins, Gogol injected
his own healthy virus into an effete body, blew his own virile spirit,
the spirit of his race, into its nostrils, and gave the Russian novel
its direction to this very day.
More than that. The nomad and romantic in him, troubled and restless
with Ukrainian myth, legend, and song, impressed upon Russian
literature, faced with the realities of modern life, a spirit titanic
and in clash with its material, and produced in the mastery of this
every-day material, commonly called sordid, a phantasmagoria intense
with beauty. A clue to all Russian realism may be found in a Russian
critic's observation about Gogol: "Seldom has nature created a man so
romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic
in life." But this statement does not cover the whole ground, for it
is easy to see in almost all of Gogol's work his "free Cossack soul"
trying to break through the shell of sordid to-day like some ancient
demon, essentially Dionysian. So that his works, true though they are
to our life, are at once a reproach, a protest, and a challenge, ever
calling for joy, ancient joy, that is no more with us. And they have
all the joy and sadness of the Ukrainian songs he loved so much.
Ukrainian was to Gogol "the language of the soul," and it was in
Ukrainian songs rather than in old chronicles, of which he was not a
little contemptuous, that he read the history of his people. Time and
again, in his essays and in his letters to friends, he expresses his
boundless joy in these songs: "O songs, you are my joy and my life!
How I love you. What are the bloodless chronicles I pore over beside
those clear, live chronicles! I cannot live without songs; they . . .
reveal everything more and more clearly, oh, how clearly, gone-by life
and gone-by men. . . . The songs of Little Russia are her everything,
her poetry, her history, and her ancestral grave. He who has not
penetrated them deeply knows nothing of the past of this blooming
region of Russia."
Indeed, so great was his enthusiasm for his own land that after
collecting material for many years, the year 1833 finds him at work on
a history of "poor Ukraine," a work planned to take up six volumes;
and writing to a friend at this time he promises to say much in it
that has not been said before him. Furthermore, he intended to follow
this work with a universal history in eight volumes with a view to
establishing, as far as may be gathered, Little Russia and the world
in proper relation, connecting the two; a quixotic task, surely. A
poet, passionate, religious, loving the heroic, we find him constantly
impatient and fuming at the lifeless chronicles, which leave him cold
as he seeks in vain for what he cannot find. "Nowhere," he writes in
1834, "can I find anything of the time which ought to be richer than
any other in events. Here was a people whose whole existence was
passed in activity, and which, even if nature had made it inactive,
was compelled to go forward to great affairs and deeds because of its
neighbours, its geographic situation, the constant danger to its
existence. . . . If the Crimeans and the Turks had had a literature I
am convinced that no history of an independent nation in Europe would
prove so interesting as that of the Cossacks." Again he complains of
the "withered chronicles"; it is only the wealth of his country's song
that encourages him to go on with its history.
Too much a visionary and a poet to be an impartial historian, it is
hardly astonishing to note the judgment he passes on his own work,
during that same year, 1834: "My history of Little Russia's past is an
extraordinarily made thing, and it could not be otherwise." The deeper
he goes into Little Russia's past the more fanatically he dreams of
Little Russia's future. St. Petersburg wearies him, Moscow awakens no
emotion in him, he yearns for Kieff, the mother of Russian cities,
which in his vision he sees becoming "the Russian Athens." Russian
history gives him no pleasure, and he separates it definitely from
Ukrainian history. He is "ready to cast everything aside rather than
read Russian history," he writes to Pushkin. During his seven-year
stay in St. Petersburg (1829-36) Gogol zealously gathered historical
material and, in the words of Professor Kotlyarevsky, "lived in the
dream of becoming the Thucydides of Little Russia." How completely he
disassociated Ukrainia from Northern Russia may be judged by the
conspectus of his lectures written in 1832. He says in it, speaking of
the conquest of Southern Russia in the fourteenth century by Prince
Guedimin at the head of his Lithuanian host, still dressed in the
skins of wild beasts, still worshipping the ancient fire and
practising pagan rites: "Then Southern Russia, under the mighty
protection of Lithuanian princes, completely separated itself from the
North. Every bond between them was broken; two kingdoms were
established under a single name--Russia--one under the Tatar yoke, the
other under the same rule with Lithuanians. But actually they had no
relation with one another; different laws, different customs,
different aims, different bonds, and different activities gave them
wholly different characters."
This same Prince Guedimin freed Kieff from the Tatar yoke. This city
had been laid waste by the golden hordes of Ghengis Khan and hidden
for a very long time from the Slavonic chronicler as behind an
impenetrable curtain. A shrewd man, Guedimin appointed a Slavonic
prince to rule over the city and permitted the inhabitants to practise
their own faith, Greek Christianity. Prior to the Mongol invasion,
which brought conflagration and ruin, and subjected Russia to a
two-century bondage, cutting her off from Europe, a state of chaos
existed and the separate tribes fought with one another constantly and
for the most petty reasons. Mutual depredations were possible owing to
the absence of mountain ranges; there were no natural barriers against
sudden attack. The openness of the steppe made the people war-like.
But this very openness made it possible later for Guedimin's pagan
hosts, fresh from the fir forests of what is now White Russia, to make
a clean sweep of the whole country between Lithuania and Poland, and
thus give the scattered princedoms a much-needed cohesion. In this way
Ukrainia was formed. Except for some forests, infested with bears, the
country was one vast plain, marked by an occasional hillock. Whole
herds of wild horses and deer stampeded the country, overgrown with
tall grass, while flocks of wild goats wandered among the rocks of the
Dnieper. Apart from the Dnieper, and in some measure the Desna,
emptying into it, there were no navigable rivers and so there was
little opportunity for a commercial people. Several tributaries cut
across, but made no real boundary line. Whether you looked to the
north towards Russia, to the east towards the Tatars, to the south
towards the Crimean Tatars, to the west towards Poland, everywhere the
country bordered on a field, everywhere on a plain, which left it open
to the invader from every side. Had there been here, suggests Gogol in
his introduction to his never-written history of Little Russia, if
upon one side only, a real frontier of mountain or sea, the people who
settled here might have formed a definite political body. Without this
natural protection it became a land subject to constant attack and
despoliation. "There where three hostile nations came in contact it
was manured with bones, wetted with blood. A single Tatar invasion
destroyed the whole labour of the soil-tiller; the meadows and the
cornfields were trodden down by horses or destroyed by flame, the
lightly-built habitations reduced to the ground, the inhabitants
scattered or driven off into captivity together with cattle. It was a
land of terror, and for this reason there could develop in it only a
warlike people, strong in its unity and desperate, a people whose
whole existence was bound to be trained and confined to war."
This constant menace, this perpetual pressure of foes on all sides,
acted at last like a fierce hammer shaping and hardening resistance
against itself. The fugitive from Poland, the fugitive from the Tatar
and the Turk, homeless, with nothing to lose, their lives ever exposed
to danger, forsook their peaceful occupations and became transformed
into a warlike people, known as the Cossacks, whose appearance towards
the end of the thirteenth century or at the beginning of the
fourteenth was a remarkable event which possibly alone (suggests
Gogol) prevented any further inroads by the two Mohammedan nations
into Europe. The appearance of the Cossacks was coincident with the
appearance in Europe of brotherhoods and knighthood-orders, and this
new race, in spite of its living the life of marauders, in spite of
turnings its foes' tactics upon its foes, was not free of the
religious spirit of its time; if it warred for its existence it warred
not less for its faith, which was Greek. Indeed, as the nation grew
stronger and became conscious of its strength, the struggle began to
partake something of the nature of a religious war, not alone
defensive but aggressive also, against the unbeliever. While any man
was free to join the brotherhood it was obligatory to believe in the
Greek faith. It was this religious unity, blazed into activity by the
presence across the borders of unbelieving nations, that alone
indicated the germ of a political body in this gathering of men, who
otherwise lived the audacious lives of a band of highway robbers.
"There was, however," says Gogol, "none of the austerity of the
Catholic knight in them; they bound themselves to no vows or fasts;
they put no self-restraint upon themselves or mortified their flesh,
but were indomitable like the rocks of the Dnieper among which they
lived, and in their furious feasts and revels they forgot the whole
world. That same intimate brotherhood, maintained in robber
communities, bound them together. They had everything in common--wine,
food, dwelling. A perpetual fear, a perpetual danger, inspired them
with a contempt towards life. The Cossack worried more about a good
measure of wine than about his fate. One has to see this denizen of
the frontier in his half-Tatar, half-Polish costume--which so sharply
outlined the spirit of the borderland--galloping in Asiatic fashion on
his horse, now lost in thick grass, now leaping with the speed of a
tiger from ambush, or emerging suddenly from the river or swamp, all
clinging with mud, and appearing an image of terror to the
Tatar. . . ."
Little by little the community grew and with its growing it began to
assume a general character. The beginning of the sixteenth century
found whole villages settled with families, enjoying the protection of
the Cossacks, who exacted certain obligations, chiefly military, so
that these settlements bore a military character. The sword and the
plough were friends which fraternised at every settler's. On the other
hand, Gogol tells us, the gay bachelors began to make depredations
across the border to sweep down on Tatars' wives and their daughters
and to marry them. "Owing to this co-mingling, their facial features,
so different from one another's, received a common impress, tending
towards the Asiatic. And so there came into being a nation in faith
and place belonging to Europe; on the other hand, in ways of life,
customs, and dress quite Asiatic. It was a nation in which the world's
two extremes came in contact; European caution and Asiatic
indifference, niavete and cunning, an intense activity and the
greatest laziness and indulgence, an aspiration to development and
perfection, and again a desire to appear indifferent to perfection."
All of Ukraine took on its colour from the Cossack, and if I have
drawn largely on Gogol's own account of the origins of this race, it
was because it seemed to me that Gogol's emphasis on the heroic rather
than on the historical--Gogol is generally discounted as an
historian--would give the reader a proper approach to the mood in
which he created "Taras Bulba," the finest epic in Russian literature.
Gogol never wrote either his history of Little Russia or his universal
history. Apart from several brief studies, not always reliable, the
net result of his many years' application to his scholarly projects
was this brief epic in prose, Homeric in mood. The sense of intense
living, "living dangerously"--to use a phrase of Nietzsche's, the
recognition of courage as the greatest of all virtues--the God in man,
inspired Gogol, living in an age which tended toward grey tedium, with
admiration for his more fortunate forefathers, who lived in "a poetic
time, when everything was won with the sword, when every one in his
turn strove to be an active being and not a spectator." Into this
short work he poured all his love of the heroic, all his romanticism,
all his poetry, all his joy. Its abundance of life bears one along
like a fast-flowing river. And it is not without humour, a calm,
detached humour, which, as the critic Bolinsky puts it, is not there
merely "because Gogol has a tendency to see the comic in everything,
but because it is true to life."
Yet "Taras Bulba" was in a sense an accident, just as many other works
of great men are accidents. It often requires a happy combination of
circumstances to produce a masterpiece. I have already told in my
introduction to "Dead Souls"[1] how Gogol created his great realistic
masterpiece, which was to influence Russian literature for generations
to come, under the influence of models so remote in time or place as
"Don Quixote" or "Pickwick Papers"; and how this combination of
influences joined to his own genius produced a work quite new and
original in effect and only remotely reminiscent of the models which
have inspired it. And just as "Dead Souls" might never have been
written if "Don Quixote" had not existed, so there is every reason to
believe that "Taras Bulba" could not have been written without the
"Odyssey." Once more ancient fire gave life to new beauty. And yet at
the time Gogol could not have had more than a smattering of the
"Odyssey." The magnificent translation made by his friend Zhukovsky
had not yet appeared and Gogol, in spite of his ambition to become a
historian, was not equipped as a scholar. But it is evident from his
dithyrambic letter on the appearance of Zhukovsky's version, forming
one of the famous series of letters known as "Correspondence with
Friends," that he was better acquainted with the spirit of Homer than
any mere scholar could be. That letter, unfortunately unknown to the
English reader, would make every lover of the classics in this day of
their disparagement dance with joy. He describes the "Odyssey" as the
forgotten source of all that is beautiful and harmonious in life, and
he greets its appearance in Russian dress at a time when life is
sordid and discordant as a thing inevitable, "cooling" in effect upon
a too hectic world. He sees in its perfect grace, its calm and almost
childlike simplicity, a power for individual and general good. "It
combines all the fascination of a fairy tale and all the simple truth
of human adventure, holding out the same allurement to every being,
whether he is a noble, a commoner, a merchant, a literate or
illiterate person, a private soldier, a lackey, children of both
sexes, beginning at an age when a child begins to love a fairy
tale--all might read it or listen to it, without tedium." Every one
will draw from it what he most needs. Not less than upon these he sees
its wholesome effect on the creative writer, its refreshing influence
on the critic. But most of all he dwells on its heroic qualities,
inseparable to him from what is religious in the "Odyssey"; and, says
Gogol, this book contains the idea that a human being, "wherever he
might be, whatever pursuit he might follow, is threatened by many
woes, that he must need wrestle with them--for that very purpose was
life given to him--that never for a single instant must he despair,
just as Odysseus did not despair, who in every hard and oppressive
moment turned to his own heart, unaware that with this inner scrutiny
of himself he had already said that hidden prayer uttered in a moment
of distress by every man having no understanding whatever of God."
Then he goes on to compare the ancient harmony, perfect down to every
detail of dress, to the slightest action, with our slovenliness and
confusion and pettiness, a sad result--considering our knowledge of
past experience, our possession of superior weapons, our religion
given to make us holy and superior beings. And in conclusion he asks:
Is not the "Odyssey" in every sense a deep reproach to our nineteenth
[1] Everyman's Library, No. 726.
An understanding of Gogol's point of view gives the key to "Taras
Bulba." For in this panoramic canvas of the Setch, the military
brotherhood of the Cossacks, living under open skies, picturesquely
and heroically, he has drawn a picture of his romantic ideal, which if
far from perfect at any rate seemed to him preferable to the grey
tedium of a city peopled with government officials. Gogol has written
in "Taras Bulba" his own reproach to the nineteenth century. It is
sad and joyous like one of those Ukrainian songs which have helped to
inspire him to write it. And then, as he cut himself off more and more
from the world of the past, life became a sadder and still sadder
thing to him; modern life, with all its gigantic pettiness, closed in
around him, he began to write of petty officials and of petty
scoundrels, "commonplace heroes" he called them. But nothing is ever
lost in this world. Gogol's romanticism, shut in within himself,
finding no outlet, became a flame. It was a flame of pity. He was like
a man walking in hell, pitying. And that was the miracle, the
transfiguration. Out of that flame of pity the Russian novel was born.
Evenings on the Farm near the Dikanka, 1829-31; Mirgorod, 1831-33;
Taras Bulba, 1834; Arabesques (includes tales, The Portrait and A
Madman's Diary), 1831-35; The Cloak, 1835; The Revizor (The Inspector-
General), 1836; Dead Souls, 1842; Correspondence with Friends, 1847;
Letters, 1847, 1895, 4 vols. 1902.
ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS: Cossack Tales (The Night of Christmas Eve,
Tarass Boolba), trans. by G. Tolstoy, 1860; St. John's Eve and Other
Stories, trans. by Isabel F. Hapgood, New York, Crowell, 1886; Taras
Bulba: Also St. John's Eve and Other Stories, London, Vizetelly, 1887;
Taras Bulba, trans. by B. C. Baskerville, London, Scott, 1907; The
Inspector: a Comedy, Calcutta, 1890; The Inspector-General, trans. by
A. A. Sykes, London, Scott, 1892; Revizor, trans. for the Yale
Dramatic Association by Max S. Mandell, New Haven, Conn., 1908; Home
Life in Russia (adaptation of Dead Souls), London, Hurst, 1854;
Tchitchikoff's Journey's; or Dead Souls, trans. by Isabel F. Hapgood,
New York, Crowell, 1886; Dead Souls, London, Vizetelly, 1887; Dead
Souls, London, Maxwell 1887; Dead Souls, London, Fisher Unwin, 1915;
Dead Souls, London, Everyman's Library (Intro. by John Cournos), 1915;
Meditations on the Divine Liturgy, trans. by L. Alexeieff, London, A.
R. Mowbray and Co., 1913.
LIVES, etc.: (Russian) Kotlyarevsky (N. A.), 1903; Shenrok (V. I.),
Materials for a Biography, 1892; (French) Leger (L.), Nicholas Gogol,
"Turn round, my boy! How ridiculous you look! What sort of a priest's
cassock have you got on? Does everybody at the academy dress like
With such words did old Bulba greet his two sons, who had been absent
for their education at the Royal Seminary of Kief, and had now
returned home to their father.
His sons had but just dismounted from their horses. They were a couple
of stout lads who still looked bashful, as became youths recently
released from the seminary. Their firm healthy faces were covered with
the first down of manhood, down which had, as yet, never known a
razor. They were greatly discomfited by such a reception from their
father, and stood motionless with eyes fixed upon the ground.
"Stand still, stand still! let me have a good look at you," he
continued, turning them around. "How long your gaberdines are! What
gaberdines! There never were such gaberdines in the world before. Just
run, one of you! I want to see whether you will not get entangled in
the skirts, and fall down."
"Don't laugh, don't laugh, father!" said the eldest lad at length.
"How touchy we are! Why shouldn't I laugh?"
"Because, although you are my father, if you laugh, by heavens, I will
strike you!"
"What kind of son are you? what, strike your father!" exclaimed Taras
Bulba, retreating several paces in amazement.
"Yes, even my father. I don't stop to consider persons when an insult
is in question."
"So you want to fight me? with your fist, eh?"
"Any way."
"Well, let it be fisticuffs," said Taras Bulba, turning up his
sleeves. "I'll see what sort of a man you are with your fists."
And father and son, in lieu of a pleasant greeting after long
separation, began to deal each other heavy blows on ribs, back, and
chest, now retreating and looking at each other, now attacking afresh.
"Look, good people! the old man has gone man! he has lost his senses
completely!" screamed their pale, ugly, kindly mother, who was
standing on the threshold, and had not yet succeeded in embracing her
darling children. "The children have come home, we have not seen them
for over a year; and now he has taken some strange freak--he's
pommelling them."
"Yes, he fights well," said Bulba, pausing; "well, by heavens!" he
continued, rather as if excusing himself, "although he has never tried
his hand at it before, he will make a good Cossack! Now, welcome, son!
embrace me," and father and son began to kiss each other. "Good lad!
see that you hit every one as you pommelled me; don't let any one
escape. Nevertheless your clothes are ridiculous all the same. What
rope is this hanging there?--And you, you lout, why are you standing
there with your hands hanging beside you?" he added, turning to the
youngest. "Why don't you fight me? you son of a dog!"
"What an idea!" said the mother, who had managed in the meantime to
embrace her youngest. "Who ever heard of children fighting their own
father? That's enough for the present; the child is young, he has had
a long journey, he is tired." The child was over twenty, and about six
feet high. "He ought to rest, and eat something; and you set him to
"You are a gabbler!" said Bulba. "Don't listen to your mother, my lad;
she is a woman, and knows nothing. What sort of petting do you need? A
clear field and a good horse, that's the kind of petting for you! And
do you see this sword? that's your mother! All the rest people stuff
your heads with is rubbish; the academy, books, primers, philosophy,
and all that, I spit upon it all!" Here Bulba added a word which is
not used in print. "But I'll tell you what is best: I'll take you to
Zaporozhe[1] this very week. That's where there's science for you!
There's your school; there alone will you gain sense."
[1] The Cossack country beyond (za) the falls (porozhe) of the
"And are they only to remain home a week?" said the worn old mother
sadly and with tears in her eyes. "The poor boys will have no chance
of looking around, no chance of getting acquainted with the home where
they were born; there will be no chance for me to get a look at them."
"Enough, you've howled quite enough, old woman! A Cossack is not born
to run around after women. You would like to hide them both under your
petticoat, and sit upon them as a hen sits on eggs. Go, go, and let us
have everything there is on the table in a trice. We don't want any
dumplings, honey-cakes, poppy-cakes, or any other such messes: give us
a whole sheep, a goat, mead forty years old, and as much corn-brandy
as possible, not with raisins and all sorts of stuff, but plain
scorching corn-brandy, which foams and hisses like mad."
Bulba led his sons into the principal room of the hut; and two pretty
servant girls wearing coin necklaces, who were arranging the
apartment, ran out quickly. They were either frightened at the arrival
of the young men, who did not care to be familiar with anyone; or else
they merely wanted to keep up their feminine custom of screaming and
rushing away headlong at the sight of a man, and then screening their
blushes for some time with their sleeves. The hut was furnished
according to the fashion of that period--a fashion concerning which
hints linger only in the songs and lyrics, no longer sung, alas! in
the Ukraine as of yore by blind old men, to the soft tinkling of the
native guitar, to the people thronging round them--according to the
taste of that warlike and troublous time, of leagues and battles
prevailing in the Ukraine after the union. Everything was cleanly
smeared with coloured clay. On the walls hung sabres, hunting-whips,
nets for birds, fishing-nets, guns, elaborately carved powder-horns,
gilded bits for horses, and tether-ropes with silver plates. The small
window had round dull panes, through which it was impossible to see
except by opening the one moveable one. Around the windows and doors
red bands were painted. On shelves in one corner stood jugs, bottles,
and flasks of green and blue glass, carved silver cups, and gilded
drinking vessels of various makes--Venetian, Turkish, Tscherkessian,
which had reached Bulba's cabin by various roads, at third and fourth
hand, a thing common enough in those bold days. There were birch-wood
benches all around the room, a huge table under the holy pictures in
one corner, and a huge stove covered with particoloured patterns in
relief, with spaces between it and the wall. All this was quite
familiar to the two young men, who were wont to come home every year
during the dog-days, since they had no horses, and it was not
customary to allow students to ride afield on horseback. The only
distinctive things permitted them were long locks of hair on the
temples, which every Cossack who bore weapons was entitled to pull. It
was only at the end of their course of study that Bulba had sent them
a couple of young stallions from his stud.
Bulba, on the occasion of his sons' arrival, ordered all the sotniks
or captains of hundreds, and all the officers of the band who were of
any consequence, to be summoned; and when two of them arrived with his
old comrade, the Osaul or sub-chief, Dmitro Tovkatch, he immediately
presented the lads, saying, "See what fine young fellows they are! I
shall send them to the Setch[2] shortly." The guests congratulated
Bulba and the young men, telling them they would do well and that
there was no better knowledge for a young man than a knowledge of that
same Zaporozhian Setch.
[2] The village or, rather, permanent camp of the Zaporozhian
"Come, brothers, seat yourselves, each where he likes best, at the
table; come, my sons. First of all, let's take some corn-brandy," said
Bulba. "God bless you! Welcome, lads; you, Ostap, and you, Andrii. God
grant that you may always be successful in war, that you may beat the
Musselmans and the Turks and the Tatars; and that when the Poles
undertake any expedition against our faith, you may beat the Poles.
Come, clink your glasses. How now? Is the brandy good? What's
corn-brandy in Latin? The Latins were stupid: they did not know there
was such a thing in the world as corn-brandy. What was the name of the
man who wrote Latin verses? I don't know much about reading and
writing, so I don't quite know. Wasn't it Horace?"
"What a dad!" thought the elder son Ostap. "The old dog knows
everything, but he always pretends the contrary."
"I don't believe the archimandrite allowed you so much as a smell of
corn-brandy," continued Taras. "Confess, my boys, they thrashed you
well with fresh birch-twigs on your backs and all over your Cossack
bodies; and perhaps, when you grew too sharp, they beat you with
whips. And not on Saturday only, I fancy, but on Wednesday and
"What is past, father, need not be recalled; it is done with."
"Let them try it know," said Andrii. "Let anybody just touch me, let
any Tatar risk it now, and he'll soon learn what a Cossack's sword is
"Good, my son, by heavens, good! And when it comes to that, I'll go
with you; by heavens, I'll go too! What should I wait here for? To
become a buckwheat-reaper and housekeeper, to look after the sheep and
swine, and loaf around with my wife? Away with such nonsense! I am a
Cossack; I'll have none of it! What's left but war? I'll go with you
to Zaporozhe to carouse; I'll go, by heavens!" And old Bulba, growing
warm by degrees and finally quite angry, rose from the table, and,
assuming a dignified attitude, stamped his foot. "We will go
to-morrow! Wherefore delay? What enemy can we besiege here? What is
this hut to us? What do we want with all these things? What are pots
and pans to us?" So saying, he began to knock over the pots and
flasks, and to throw them about.
The poor old woman, well used to such freaks on the part of her
husband, looked sadly on from her seat on the wall-bench. She did not
dare say a word; but when she heard the decision which was so terrible
for her, she could not refrain from tears. As she looked at her
children, from whom so speedy a separation was threatened, it is
impossible to describe the full force of her speechless grief, which
seemed to quiver in her eyes and on her lips convulsively pressed
Bulba was terribly headstrong. He was one of those characters which
could only exist in that fierce fifteenth century, and in that
half-nomadic corner of Europe, when the whole of Southern Russia,
deserted by its princes, was laid waste and burned to the quick by
pitiless troops of Mongolian robbers; when men deprived of house and
home grew brave there; when, amid conflagrations, threatening
neighbours, and eternal terrors, they settled down, and growing
accustomed to looking these things straight in the face, trained
themselves not to know that there was such a thing as fear in the
world; when the old, peacable Slav spirit was fired with warlike
flame, and the Cossack state was instituted--a free, wild outbreak of
Russian nature--and when all the river-banks, fords, and like suitable
places were peopled by Cossacks, whose number no man knew. Their bold
comrades had a right to reply to the Sultan when he asked how many
they were, "Who knows? We are scattered all over the steppes; wherever
there is a hillock, there is a Cossack."
It was, in fact, a most remarkable exhibition of Russian strength,
forced by dire necessity from the bosom of the people. In place of the
original provinces with their petty towns, in place of the warring and
bartering petty princes ruling in their cities, there arose great
colonies, kurens[3], and districts, bound together by one common
danger and hatred against the heathen robbers. The story is well known
how their incessant warfare and restless existence saved Europe from
the merciless hordes which threatened to overwhelm her. The Polish
kings, who now found themselves sovereigns, in place of the provincial
princes, over these extensive tracts of territory, fully understood,
despite the weakness and remoteness of their own rule, the value of
the Cossacks, and the advantages of the warlike, untrammelled life led
by them. They encouraged them and flattered this disposition of mind.
Under their distant rule, the hetmans or chiefs, chosen from among the
Cossacks themselves, redistributed the territory into military
districts. It was not a standing army, no one saw it; but in case of
war and general uprising, it required a week, and no more, for every
man to appear on horseback, fully armed, receiving only one ducat from
the king; and in two weeks such a force had assembled as no recruiting
officers would ever have been able to collect. When the expedition was
ended, the army dispersed among the fields and meadows and the fords
of the Dnieper; each man fished, wrought at his trade, brewed his
beer, and was once more a free Cossack. Their foreign contemporaries
rightly marvelled at their wonderful qualities. There was no
handicraft which the Cossack was not expert at: he could distil
brandy, build a waggon, make powder, and do blacksmith's and
gunsmith's work, in addition to committing wild excesses, drinking and
carousing as only a Russian can--all this he was equal to. Besides the
registered Cossacks, who considered themselves bound to appear in arms
in time of war, it was possible to collect at any time, in case of
dire need, a whole army of volunteers. All that was required was for
the Osaul or sub-chief to traverse the market-places and squares of
the villages and hamlets, and shout at the top of his voice, as he
stood in his waggon, "Hey, you distillers and beer-brewers! you have
brewed enough beer, and lolled on your stoves, and stuffed your fat
carcasses with flour, long enough! Rise, win glory and warlike
honours! You ploughmen, you reapers of buckwheat, you tenders of
sheep, you danglers after women, enough of following the plough, and
soiling your yellow shoes in the earth, and courting women, and
wasting your warlike strength! The hour has come to win glory for the
Cossacks!" These words were like sparks falling on dry wood. The
husbandman broke his plough; the brewers and distillers threw away
their casks and destroyed their barrels; the mechanics and merchants
sent their trade and their shop to the devil, broke pots and
everything else in their homes, and mounted their horses. In short,
the Russian character here received a profound development, and
manifested a powerful outwards expression.
[3] Cossack villages. In the Setch, a large wooden barrack.
Taras was one of the band of old-fashioned leaders; he was born for
warlike emotions, and was distinguished for his uprightness of
character. At that epoch the influence of Poland had already begun to
make itself felt upon the Russian nobility. Many had adopted Polish
customs, and began to display luxury in splendid staffs of servants,
hawks, huntsmen, dinners, and palaces. This was not to Taras's taste.
He liked the simple life of the Cossacks, and quarrelled with those of
his comrades who were inclined to the Warsaw party, calling them serfs
of the Polish nobles. Ever on the alert, he regarded himself as the
legal protector of the orthodox faith. He entered despotically into
any village where there was a general complaint of oppression by the
revenue farmers and of the addition of fresh taxes on necessaries. He
and his Cossacks executed justice, and made it a rule that in three
cases it was absolutely necessary to resort to the sword. Namely, when
the commissioners did not respect the superior officers and stood
before them covered; when any one made light of the faith and did not
observe the customs of his ancestors; and, finally, when the enemy
were Mussulmans or Turks, against whom he considered it permissible,
in every case, to draw the sword for the glory of Christianity.
Now he rejoiced beforehand at the thought of how he would present
himself with his two sons at the Setch, and say, "See what fine young
fellows I have brought you!" how he would introduce them to all his
old comrades, steeled in warfare; how he would observe their first
exploits in the sciences of war and of drinking, which was also
regarded as one of the principal warlike qualities. At first he had
intended to send them forth alone; but at the sight of their
freshness, stature, and manly personal beauty his martial spirit
flamed up and he resolved to go with them himself the very next day,
although there was no necessity for this except his obstinate
self-will. He began at once to hurry about and give orders; selected
horses and trappings for his sons, looked through the stables and
storehouses, and chose servants to accompany them on the morrow. He
delegated his power to Osaul Tovkatch, and gave with it a strict
command to appear with his whole force at the Setch the very instant
he should receive a message from him. Although he was jolly, and the
effects of his drinking bout still lingered in his brain, he forgot
nothing. He even gave orders that the horses should be watered, their
cribs filled, and that they should be fed with the finest corn; and
then he retired, fatigued with all his labours.
"Now, children, we must sleep, but to-morrow we shall do what God
wills. Don't prepare us a bed: we need no bed; we will sleep in the
Night had but just stole over the heavens, but Bulba always went to
bed early. He lay down on a rug and covered himself with a sheepskin
pelisse, for the night air was quite sharp and he liked to lie warm
when he was at home. He was soon snoring, and the whole household
speedily followed his example. All snored and groaned as they lay in
different corners. The watchman went to sleep the first of all, he had
drunk so much in honour of the young masters' home-coming.
The mother alone did not sleep. She bent over the pillow of her
beloved sons, as they lay side by side; she smoothed with a comb their
carelessly tangled locks, and moistened them with her tears. She gazed
at them with her whole soul, with every sense; she was wholly merged
in the gaze, and yet she could not gaze enough. She had fed them at
her own breast, she had tended them and brought them up; and now to
see them only for an instant! "My sons, my darling sons! what will
become of you! what fate awaits you?" she said, and tears stood in the
wrinkles which disfigured her once beautiful face. In truth, she was
to be pitied, as was every woman of that period. She had lived only
for a moment of love, only during the first ardour of passion, only
during the first flush of youth; and then her grim betrayer had
deserted her for the sword, for his comrades and his carouses. She saw
her husband two or three days in a year, and then, for several years,
heard nothing of him. And when she did see him, when they did live
together, what a life was hers! She endured insult, even blows; she
felt caresses bestowed only in pity; she was a misplaced object in
that community of unmarried warriors, upon which wandering Zaporozhe
cast a colouring of its own. Her pleasureless youth flitted by; her
ripe cheeks and bosom withered away unkissed and became covered with
premature wrinkles. Love, feeling, everything that is tender and
passionate in a woman, was converted in her into maternal love. She
hovered around her children with anxiety, passion, tears, like the
gull of the steppes. They were taking her sons, her darling sons, from
her--taking them from her, so that she should never see them again!
Who knew? Perhaps a Tatar would cut off their heads in the very first
skirmish, and she would never know where their deserted bodies might
lie, torn by birds of prey; and yet for each single drop of their
blood she would have given all hers. Sobbing, she gazed into their
eyes, and thought, "Perhaps Bulba, when he wakes, will put off their
departure for a day or two; perhaps it occurred to him to go so soon
because he had been drinking."
The moon from the summit of the heavens had long since lit up the
whole courtyard filled with sleepers, the thick clump of willows, and
the tall steppe-grass, which hid the palisade surrounding the court.
She still sat at her sons' pillow, never removing her eyes from them
for a moment, nor thinking of sleep. Already the horses, divining the
approach of dawn, had ceased eating and lain down upon the grass; the
topmost leaves of the willows began to rustle softly, and little by
little the rippling rustle descended to their bases. She sat there
until daylight, unwearied, and wishing in her heart that the night
might prolong itself indefinitely. From the steppes came the ringing
neigh of the horses, and red streaks shone brightly in the sky. Bulba
suddenly awoke, and sprang to his feet. He remembered quite well what
he had ordered the night before. "Now, my men, you've slept enough!
'tis time, 'tis time! Water the horses! And where is the old woman?"
He generally called his wife so. "Be quick, old woman, get us
something to eat; the way is long."
The poor old woman, deprived of her last hope, slipped sadly into the
Whilst she, with tears, prepared what was needed for breakfast, Bulba
gave his orders, went to the stable, and selected his best trappings
for his children with his own hand.
The scholars were suddenly transformed. Red morocco boots with silver
heels took the place of their dirty old ones; trousers wide as the
Black Sea, with countless folds and plaits, were kept up by golden
girdles from which hung long slender thongs, with tassles and other
tinkling things, for pipes. Their jackets of scarlet cloth were girt
by flowered sashes into which were thrust engraved Turkish pistols;
their swords clanked at their heels. Their faces, already a little
sunburnt, seemed to have grown handsomer and whiter; their slight
black moustaches now cast a more distinct shadow on this pallor and
set off their healthy youthful complexions. They looked very handsome
in their black sheepskin caps, with cloth-of-gold crowns.
When their poor mother saw them, she could not utter a word, and tears
stood in her eyes.
"Now, my lads, all is ready; no delay!" said Bulba at last. "But we
must first all sit down together, in accordance with Christian custom
before a journey."
All sat down, not excepting the servants, who had been standing
respectfully at the door.
"Now, mother, bless your children," said Bulba. "Pray God that they
may fight bravely, always defend their warlike honour, always defend
the faith of Christ; and, if not, that they may die, so that their
breath may not be longer in the world."
"Come to your mother, children; a mother's prayer protects on land and
The mother, weak as mothers are, embraced them, drew out two small
holy pictures, and hung them, sobbing, around their necks. "May God's
mother--keep you! Children, do not forget your mother--send some
little word of yourselves--" She could say no more.
"Now, children, let us go," said Bulba.
At the door stood the horses, ready saddled. Bulba sprang upon his
"Devil," which bounded wildly, on feeling on his back a load of over
thirty stone, for Taras was extremely stout and heavy.
When the mother saw that her sons were also mounted, she rushed
towards the younger, whose features expressed somewhat more gentleness
than those of his brother. She grasped his stirrup, clung to his
saddle, and with despair in her eyes, refused to loose her hold. Two
stout Cossacks seized her carefully, and bore her back into the hut.
But before the cavalcade had passed out of the courtyard, she rushed
with the speed of a wild goat, disproportionate to her years, to the
gate, stopped a horse with irresistible strength, and embraced one of
her sons with mad, unconscious violence. Then they led her away again.
The young Cossacks rode on sadly, repressing their tears out of fear
of their father, who, on his side, was somewhat moved, although he
strove not to show it. The morning was grey, the green sward bright,
the birds twittered rather discordantly. They glanced back as they
rode. Their paternal farm seemed to have sunk into the earth. All that
was visible above the surface were the two chimneys of their modest
hut and the tops of the trees up whose trunks they had been used to
climb like squirrels. Before them still stretched the field by which
they could recall the whole story of their lives, from the years when
they rolled in its dewy grass down to the years when they awaited in
it the dark-browed Cossack maiden, running timidly across it on quick
young feet. There is the pole above the well, with the waggon wheel
fastened to its top, rising solitary against the sky; already the
level which they have traversed appears a hill in the distance, and
now all has disappeared. Farewell, childhood, games, all, all,
All three horsemen rode in silence. Old Taras's thoughts were far
away: before him passed his youth, his years--the swift-flying years,
over which the Cossack always weeps, wishing that his life might be
all youth. He wondered whom of his former comrades he should meet at
the Setch. He reckoned up how many had already died, how many were
still alive. Tears formed slowly in his eyes, and his grey head bent
His sons were occupied with other thoughts. But we must speak further
of his sons. They had been sent, when twelve years old, to the academy
at Kief, because all leaders of that day considered it indispensable
to give their children an education, although it was afterwards
utterly forgotten. Like all who entered the academy, they were wild,
having been brought up in unrestrained freedom; and whilst there they
had acquired some polish, and pursued some common branches of
knowledge which gave them a certain resemblance to each other.
The elder, Ostap, began his scholastic career by running away in the
course of the first year. They brought him back, whipped him well, and
set him down to his books. Four times did he bury his primer in the
earth; and four times, after giving him a sound thrashing, did they
buy him a new one. But he would no doubt have repeated this feat for
the fifth time, had not his father given him a solemn assurance that
he would keep him at monastic work for twenty years, and sworn in
advance that he should never behold Zaporozhe all his life long,
unless he learned all the sciences taught in the academy. It was odd
that the man who said this was that very Taras Bulba who condemned all
learning, and counselled his children, as we have seen, not to trouble
themselves at all about it. From that moment, Ostap began to pore over
his tiresome books with exemplary diligence, and quickly stood on a
level with the best. The style of education in that age differed
widely from the manner of life. The scholastic, grammatical,
rhetorical, and logical subtle ties in vogue were decidedly out of
consonance with the times, never having any connection with, and never
being encountered in, actual life. Those who studied them, even the
least scholastic, could not apply their knowledge to anything
whatever. The learned men of those days were even more incapable than
the rest, because farther removed from all experience. Moreover, the
republican constitution of the academy, the fearful multitude of
young, healthy, strong fellows, inspired the students with an activity
quite outside the limits of their learning. Poor fare, or frequent
punishments of fasting, with the numerous requirements arising in
fresh, strong, healthy youth, combined to arouse in them that spirit
of enterprise which was afterwards further developed among the
Zaporozhians. The hungry student running about the streets of Kief
forced every one to be on his guard. Dealers sitting in the bazaar
covered their pies, their cakes, and their pumpkin-rolls with their
hands, like eagles protecting their young, if they but caught sight of
a passing student. The consul or monitor, who was bound by his duty to
look after the comrades entrusted to his care, had such frightfully
wide pockets to his trousers that he could stow away the whole
contents of the gaping dealer's stall in them. These students
constituted an entirely separate world, for they were not admitted to
the higher circles, composed of Polish and Russian nobles. Even the
Waiwode, Adam Kisel, in spite of the patronage he bestowed upon the
academy, did not seek to introduce them into society, and ordered them
to be kept more strictly in supervision. This command was quite
superfluous, for neither the rector nor the monkish professors spared
rod or whip; and the lictors sometimes, by their orders, lashed their
consuls so severely that the latter rubbed their trousers for weeks
afterwards. This was to many of them a trifle, only a little more
stinging than good vodka with pepper: others at length grew tired of
such constant blisters, and ran away to Zaporozhe if they could find
the road and were not caught on the way. Ostap Bulba, although he
began to study logic, and even theology, with much zeal, did not
escape the merciless rod. Naturally, all this tended to harden his
character, and give him that firmness which distinguishes the
Cossacks. He always held himself aloof from his comrades.
He rarely led others into such hazardous enterprises as robbing a
strange garden or orchard; but, on the other hand, he was always among
the first to join the standard of an adventurous student. And never,
under any circumstances, did he betray his comrades; neither
imprisonment nor beatings could make him do so. He was unassailable by
any temptations save those of war and revelry; at least, he scarcely
ever dreamt of others. He was upright with his equals. He was
kind-hearted, after the only fashion that kind-heartedness could exist
in such a character and at such a time. He was touched to his very
heart by his poor mother's tears; but this only vexed him, and caused
him to hang his head in thought.
His younger brother, Andrii, had livelier and more fully developed
feelings. He learned more willingly and without the effort with which
strong and weighty characters generally have to make in order to apply
themselves to study. He was more inventive-minded than his brother,
and frequently appeared as the leader of dangerous expeditions;
sometimes, thanks to the quickness of his mind, contriving to escape
punishment when his brother Ostap, abandoning all efforts, stripped
off his gaberdine and lay down upon the floor without a thought of
begging for mercy. He too thirsted for action; but, at the same time,
his soul was accessible to other sentiments. The need of love burned
ardently within him. When he had passed his eighteenth year, woman
began to present herself more frequently in his dreams; listening to
philosophical discussions, he still beheld her, fresh, black-eyed,
tender; before him constantly flitted her elastic bosom, her soft,
bare arms; the very gown which clung about her youthful yet
well-rounded limbs breathed into his visions a certain inexpressible
sensuousness. He carefully concealed this impulse of his passionate
young soul from his comrades, because in that age it was held shameful
and dishonourable for a Cossack to think of love and a wife before he
had tasted battle. On the whole, during the last year, he had acted
more rarely as leader to the bands of students, but had roamed more
frequently alone, in remote corners of Kief, among low-roofed houses,
buried in cherry orchards, peeping alluringly at the street. Sometimes
he betook himself to the more aristocratic streets, in the old Kief of
to-day, where dwelt Little Russian and Polish nobles, and where houses
were built in more fanciful style. Once, as he was gaping along, an
old-fashioned carriage belonging to some Polish noble almost drove
over him; and the heavily moustached coachman, who sat on the box,
gave him a smart cut with his whip. The young student fired up; with
thoughtless daring he seized the hind-wheel with his powerful hands
and stopped the carriage. But the coachman, fearing a drubbing, lashed
his horses; they sprang forward, and Andrii, succeeding happily in
freeing his hands, was flung full length on the ground with his face
flat in the mud. The most ringing and harmonious of laughs resounded
above him. He raised his eyes and saw, standing at a window, a beauty
such as he had never beheld in all his life, black-eyed, and with skin
white as snow illumined by the dawning flush of the sun. She was
laughing heartily, and her laugh enhanced her dazzling loveliness.
Taken aback he gazed at her in confusion, abstractedly wiping the mud
from his face, by which means it became still further smeared. Who
could this beauty be? He sought to find out from the servants, who, in
rich liveries, stood at the gate in a crowd surrounding a young
guitar-player; but they only laughed when they saw his besmeared face
and deigned him no reply. At length he learned that she was the
daughter of the Waiwode of Koven, who had come thither for a time. The
following night, with the daring characteristic of the student, he
crept through the palings into the garden and climbed a tree which
spread its branches upon the very roof of the house. From the tree he
gained the roof, and made his way down the chimney straight into the
bedroom of the beauty, who at that moment was seated before a lamp,
engaged in removing the costly earrings from her ears. The beautiful
Pole was so alarmed on suddenly beholding an unknown man that she
could not utter a single word; but when she perceived that the student
stood before her with downcast eyes, not daring to move a hand through
timidity, when she recognised in him the one who had fallen in the
street, laughter again overpowered her.
Moreover, there was nothing terrible about Andrii's features; he was
very handsome. She laughed heartily, and amused herself over him for
a long time. The lady was giddy, like all Poles; but her eyes--her
wondrous clear, piercing eyes--shot one glance, a long glance. The
student could not move hand or foot, but stood bound as in a sack,
when the Waiwode's daughter approached him boldly, placed upon his
head her glittering diadem, hung her earrings on his lips, and flung
over him a transparent muslin chemisette with gold-embroidered
garlands. She adorned him, and played a thousand foolish pranks, with
the childish carelessness which distinguishes the giddy Poles, and
which threw the poor student into still greater confusion.
He cut a ridiculous feature, gazing immovably, and with open mouth,
into her dazzling eyes. A knock at the door startled her. She ordered
him to hide himself under the bed, and, as soon as the disturber was
gone, called her maid, a Tatar prisoner, and gave her orders to
conduct him to the garden with caution, and thence show him through
the fence. But our student this time did not pass the fence so
successfully. The watchman awoke, and caught him firmly by the foot;
and the servants, assembling, beat him in the street, until his swift
legs rescued him. After that it became very dangerous to pass the
house, for the Waiwode's domestics were numerous. He met her once
again at church. She saw him, and smiled pleasantly, as at an old
acquaintance. He saw her once more, by chance; but shortly afterwards
the Waiwode departed, and, instead of the beautiful black-eyed Pole,
some fat face or other gazed from the window. This was what Andrii was
thinking about, as he hung his head and kept his eyes on his horse's
In the meantime the steppe had long since received them all into its
green embrace; and the high grass, closing round, concealed them, till
only their black Cossack caps appeared above it.
"Eh, eh, why are you so quiet, lads?" said Bulba at length, waking
from his own reverie. "You're like monks. Now, all thinking to the
Evil One, once for all! Take your pipes in your teeth, and let us
smoke, and spur on our horses so swiftly that no bird can overtake
And the Cossacks, bending low on their horses' necks, disappeared in
the grass. Their black caps were no longer to be seen; a streak of
trodden grass alone showed the trace of their swift flight.
The sun had long since looked forth from the clear heavens and
inundated the steppe with his quickening, warming light. All that was
dim and drowsy in the Cossacks' minds flew away in a twinkling: their
hearts fluttered like birds.
The farther they penetrated the steppe, the more beautiful it became.
Then all the South, all that region which now constitutes New Russia,
even as far as the Black Sea, was a green, virgin wilderness. No
plough had ever passed over the immeasurable waves of wild growth;
horses alone, hidden in it as in a forest, trod it down. Nothing in
nature could be finer. The whole surface resembled a golden-green
ocean, upon which were sprinkled millions of different flowers.
Through the tall, slender stems of the grass peeped light-blue,
dark-blue, and lilac star-thistles; the yellow broom thrust up its
pyramidal head; the parasol-shaped white flower of the false flax
shimmered on high. A wheat-ear, brought God knows whence, was filling
out to ripening. Amongst the roots of this luxuriant vegetation ran
partridges with outstretched necks. The air was filled with the notes
of a thousand different birds. On high hovered the hawks, their wings
outspread, and their eyes fixed intently on the grass. The cries of a
flock of wild ducks, ascending from one side, were echoed from God
knows what distant lake. From the grass arose, with measured sweep, a
gull, and skimmed wantonly through blue waves of air. And now she has
vanished on high, and appears only as a black dot: now she has turned
her wings, and shines in the sunlight. Oh, steppes, how beautiful you
Our travellers halted only a few minutes for dinner. Their escort of
ten Cossacks sprang from their horses and undid the wooden casks of
brandy, and the gourds which were used instead of drinking vessels.
They ate only cakes of bread and dripping; they drank but one cup
apiece to strengthen them, for Taras Bulba never permitted
intoxication upon the road, and then continued their journey until
In the evening the whole steppe changed its aspect. All its varied
expanse was bathed in the last bright glow of the sun; and as it grew
dark gradually, it could be seen how the shadow flitted across it and
it became dark green. The mist rose more densely; each flower, each
blade of grass, emitted a fragrance as of ambergris, and the whole
steppe distilled perfume. Broad bands of rosy gold were streaked
across the dark blue heaven, as with a gigantic brush; here and there
gleamed, in white tufts, light and transparent clouds: and the
freshest, most enchanting of gentle breezes barely stirred the tops of
the grass-blades, like sea-waves, and caressed the cheek. The music
which had resounded through the day had died away, and given place to
another. The striped marmots crept out of their holes, stood erect on
their hind legs, and filled the steppe with their whistle. The whirr
of the grasshoppers had become more distinctly audible. Sometimes the
cry of the swan was heard from some distant lake, ringing through the
air like a silver trumpet. The travellers, halting in the midst of the
plain, selected a spot for their night encampment, made a fire, and
hung over it the kettle in which they cooked their oatmeal; the steam
rising and floating aslant in the air. Having supped, the Cossacks lay
down to sleep, after hobbling their horses and turning them out to
graze. They lay down in their gaberdines. The stars of night gazed
directly down upon them. They could hear the countless myriads of
insects which filled the grass; their rasping, whistling, and
chirping, softened by the fresh air, resounded clearly through the
night, and lulled the drowsy ear. If one of them rose and stood for a
time, the steppe presented itself to him strewn with the sparks of
glow-worms. At times the night sky was illumined in spots by the glare
of burning reeds along pools or river-bank; and dark flights of swans
flying to the north were suddenly lit up by the silvery, rose-coloured
gleam, till it seemed as though red kerchiefs were floating in the
dark heavens.
The travellers proceeded onward without any adventure. They came
across no villages. It was ever the same boundless, waving, beautiful
steppe. Only at intervals the summits of distant forests shone blue,
on one hand, stretching along the banks of the Dnieper. Once only did
Taras point out to his sons a small black speck far away amongst the
grass, saying, "Look, children! yonder gallops a Tatar." The little
head with its long moustaches fixed its narrow eyes upon them from
afar, its nostrils snuffing the air like a greyhound's, and then
disappeared like an antelope on its owner perceiving that the Cossacks
were thirteen strong. "And now, children, don't try to overtake the
Tatar! You would never catch him to all eternity; he has a horse
swifter than my Devil." But Bulba took precautions, fearing hidden
ambushes. They galloped along the course of a small stream, called the
Tatarka, which falls into the Dnieper; rode into the water and swam
with their horses some distance in order to conceal their trail. Then,
scrambling out on the bank, they continued their road.
Three days later they were not far from the goal of their journey. The
air suddenly grew colder: they could feel the vicinity of the Dnieper.
And there it gleamed afar, distinguishable on the horizon as a dark
band. It sent forth cold waves, spreading nearer, nearer, and finally
seeming to embrace half the entire surface of the earth. This was that
section of its course where the river, hitherto confined by the
rapids, finally makes its own away and, roaring like the sea, rushes
on at will; where the islands, flung into its midst, have pressed it
farther from their shores, and its waves have spread widely over the
earth, encountering neither cliffs nor hills. The Cossacks, alighting
from their horses, entered the ferry-boat, and after a three hours'
sail reached the shores of the island of Khortitz, where at that time
stood the Setch, which so often changed its situation.
A throng of people hastened to the shore with boats. The Cossacks
arranged the horses' trappings. Taras assumed a stately air, pulled
his belt tighter, and proudly stroked his moustache. His sons also
inspected themselves from head to foot, with some apprehension and an
undefined feeling of satisfaction; and all set out together for the
suburb, which was half a verst from the Setch. On their arrival, they
were deafened by the clang of fifty blacksmiths' hammers beating upon
twenty-five anvils sunk in the earth. Stout tanners seated beneath
awnings were scraping ox-hides with their strong hands; shop-keepers
sat in their booths, with piles of flints, steels, and powder before
them; Armenians spread out their rich handkerchiefs; Tatars turned
their kabobs upon spits; a Jew, with his head thrust forward, was
filtering some corn-brandy from a cask. But the first man they
encountered was a Zaporozhetz[1] who was sleeping in the very middle
of the road with legs and arms outstretched. Taras Bulba could not
refrain from halting to admire him. "How splendidly developed he is;
phew, what a magnificent figure!" he said, stopping his horse. It was,
in fact, a striking picture. This Zaporozhetz had stretched himself
out in the road like a lion; his scalp-lock, thrown proudly behind
him, extended over upwards of a foot of ground; his trousers of rich
red cloth were spotted with tar, to show his utter disdain for them.
Having admired to his heart's content, Bulba passed on through the
narrow street, crowded with mechanics exercising their trades, and
with people of all nationalities who thronged this suburb of the
Setch, resembling a fair, and fed and clothed the Setch itself, which
knew only how to revel and burn powder.
[1] Sometimes written Zaporovian.
At length they left the suburb behind them, and perceived some
scattered kurens[2], covered with turf, or in Tatar fashion with felt.
Some were furnished with cannon. Nowhere were any fences visible, or
any of those low-roofed houses with verandahs supported upon low
wooden pillars, such as were seen in the suburb. A low wall and a
ditch, totally unguarded, betokened a terrible degree of recklessness.
Some sturdy Zaporozhtzi lying, pipe in mouth, in the very road,
glanced indifferently at them, but never moved from their places.
Taras threaded his way carefully among them, with his sons, saying,
"Good-day, gentles."--"Good-day to you," answered the Zaporozhtzi.
Scattered over the plain were picturesque groups. From their
weatherbeaten faces, it was plain that all were steeled in battle, and
had faced every sort of bad weather. And there it was, the Setch!
There was the lair from whence all those men, proud and strong as
lions, issued forth! There was the spot whence poured forth liberty
and Cossacks all over the Ukraine.
[2] Enormous wooden sheds, each inhabited by a troop or kuren.
The travellers entered the great square where the council generally
met. On a huge overturned cask sat a Zaporozhetz without his shirt; he
was holding it in his hands, and slowly sewing up the holes in it.
Again their way was stopped by a whole crowd of musicians, in the
midst of whom a young Zaporozhetz was dancing, with head thrown back
and arms outstretched. He kept shouting, "Play faster, musicians!
Begrudge not, Thoma, brandy to these orthodox Christians!" And Thoma,
with his blackened eye, went on measuring out without stint, to every
one who presented himself, a huge jugful.
About the youthful Zaporozhetz four old men, moving their feet quite
briskly, leaped like a whirlwind to one side, almost upon the
musicians' heads, and, suddenly, retreating, squatted down and drummed
the hard earth vigorously with their silver heels. The earth hummed
dully all about, and afar the air resounded with national dance tunes
beaten by the clanging heels of their boots.
But one shouted more loudly than all the rest, and flew after the
others in the dance. His scalp-lock streamed in the wind, his muscular
chest was bare, his warm, winter fur jacket was hanging by the
sleeves, and the perspiration poured from him as from a pig. "Take off
your jacket!" said Taras at length: "see how he steams!"--"I can't,"
shouted the Cossack. "Why?"--"I can't: I have such a disposition that
whatever I take off, I drink up." And indeed, the young fellow had not
had a cap for a long time, nor a belt to his caftan, nor an
embroidered neckerchief: all had gone the proper road. The throng
increased; more folk joined the dancer: and it was impossible to
observe without emotion how all yielded to the impulse of the dance,
the freest, the wildest, the world has ever seen, still called from
its mighty originators, the Kosachka.
"Oh, if I had no horse to hold," exclaimed Taras, "I would join the
dance myself."
Meanwhile there began to appear among the throng men who were
respected for their prowess throughout all the Setch--old greyheads
who had been leaders more than once. Taras soon found a number of
familiar faces. Ostap and Andrii heard nothing but greetings. "Ah, it
is you, Petcheritza! Good day, Kozolup!"--"Whence has God brought you,
Taras?"--"How did you come here, Doloto? Health to you, Kirdyaga! Hail
to you, Gustui! Did I ever think of seeing you, Remen?" And these
heroes, gathered from all the roving population of Eastern Russia,
kissed each other and began to ask questions. "But what has become of
Kasyan? Where is Borodavka? and Koloper? and Pidsuitok?" And in reply,
Taras Bulba learned that Borodavka had been hung at Tolopan, that
Koloper had been flayed alive at Kizikirmen, that Pidsuitok's head had
been salted and sent in a cask to Constantinople. Old Bulba hung his
head and said thoughtfully, "They were good Cossacks."
Taras Bulba and his sons had been in the Setch about a week. Ostap and
Andrii occupied themselves but little with the science of war. The
Setch was not fond of wasting time in warlike exercises. The young
generation learned these by experience alone, in the very heat of
battles, which were therefore incessant. The Cossacks thought it a
nuisance to fill up the intervals of this instruction with any kind of
drill, except perhaps shooting at a mark, and on rare occasions with
horse-racing and wild-beast hunts on the steppes and in the forests.
All the rest of the time was devoted to revelry--a sign of the wide
diffusion of moral liberty. The whole of the Setch presented an
unusual scene: it was one unbroken revel; a ball noisily begun, which
had no end. Some busied themselves with handicrafts; others kept
little shops and traded; but the majority caroused from morning till
night, if the wherewithal jingled in their pockets, and if the booty
they had captured had not already passed into the hands of the
shopkeepers and spirit-sellers. This universal revelry had something
fascinating about it. It was not an assemblage of topers, who drank to
drown sorrow, but simply a wild revelry of joy. Every one who came
thither forgot everything, abandoned everything which had hitherto
interested him. He, so to speak, spat upon his past and gave himself
recklessly up to freedom and the good-fellowship of men of the same
stamp as himself--idlers having neither relatives nor home nor family,
nothing, in short, save the free sky and the eternal revel of their
souls. This gave rise to that wild gaiety which could not have sprung
from any other source. The tales and talk current among the assembled
crowd, reposing lazily on the ground, were often so droll, and
breathed such power of vivid narration, that it required all the
nonchalance of a Zaporozhetz to retain his immovable expression,
without even a twitch of the moustache--a feature which to this day
distinguishes the Southern Russian from his northern brethren. It was
drunken, noisy mirth; but there was no dark ale-house where a man
drowns thought in stupefying intoxication: it was a dense throng of
The only difference as regarded the students was that, instead of
sitting under the pointer and listening to the worn-out doctrines of a
teacher, they practised racing with five thousand horses; instead of
the field where they had played ball, they had the boundless
borderlands, where at the sight of them the Tatar showed his keen face
and the Turk frowned grimly from under his green turban. The
difference was that, instead of being forced to the companionship of
school, they themselves had deserted their fathers and mothers and
fled from their homes; that here were those about whose neck a rope
had already been wound, and who, instead of pale death, had seen life,
and life in all its intensity; those who, from generous habits, could
never keep a coin in their pockets; those who had thitherto regarded a
ducat as wealth, and whose pockets, thanks to the Jew revenue-farmers,
could have been turned wrong side out without any danger of anything
falling from them. Here were students who could not endure the
academic rod, and had not carried away a single letter from the
schools; but with them were also some who knew about Horace, Cicero,
and the Roman Republic. There were many leaders who afterwards
distinguished themselves in the king's armies; and there were numerous
clever partisans who cherished a magnanimous conviction that it was of
no consequence where they fought, so long as they did fight, since it
was a disgrace to an honourable man to live without fighting. There
were many who had come to the Setch for the sake of being able to say
afterwards that they had been there and were therefore hardened
warriors. But who was not there? This strange republic was a necessary
outgrowth of the epoch. Lovers of a warlike life, of golden beakers
and rich brocades, of ducats and gold pieces, could always find
employment there. The lovers of women alone could find naught, for no
woman dared show herself even in the suburbs of the Setch.
It seemed exceedingly strange to Ostap and Andrii that, although a
crowd of people had come to the Setch with them, not a soul inquired,
"Whence come these men? who are they? and what are their names?" They
had come thither as though returning to a home whence they had
departed only an hour before. The new-comer merely presented himself
to the Koschevoi, or head chief of the Setch, who generally said,
"Welcome! Do you believe in Christ?"--"I do," replied the new-comer.
"And do you believe in the Holy Trinity?"--"I do."--"And do you go to
church?"--"I do." "Now cross yourself." The new-comer crossed himself.
"Very good," replied the Koschevoi; "enter the kuren where you have
most acquaintances." This concluded the ceremony. And all the Setch
prayed in one church, and were willing to defend it to their last drop
of blood, although they would not hearken to aught about fasting or
abstinence. Jews, Armenians, and Tatars, inspired by strong avarice,
took the liberty of living and trading in the suburbs; for the
Zaporozhtzi never cared for bargaining, and paid whatever money their
hand chanced to grasp in their pocket. Moreover, the lot of these
gain-loving traders was pitiable in the extreme. They resembled people
settled at the foot of Vesuvius; for when the Zaporozhtzi lacked
money, these bold adventurers broke down their booths and took
everything gratis. The Setch consisted of over sixty kurens, each of
which greatly resembled a separate independent republic, but still
more a school or seminary of children, always ready for anything. No
one had any occupation; no one retained anything for himself;
everything was in the hands of the hetman of the kuren, who, on that
account, generally bore the title of "father." In his hands were
deposited the money, clothes, all the provisions, oatmeal, grain, even
the firewood. They gave him money to take care of. Quarrels amongst
the inhabitants of the kuren were not unfrequent; and in such cases
they proceeded at once to blows. The inhabitants of the kuren swarmed
into the square, and smote each other with their fists, until one side
had finally gained the upper hand, when the revelry began. Such was
the Setch, which had such an attraction for young men.
Ostap and Andrii flung themselves into this sea of dissipation with
all the ardour of youth, forgot in a trice their father's house, the
seminary, and all which had hitherto exercised their minds, and gave
themselves wholly up to their new life. Everything interested
them--the jovial habits of the Setch, and its chaotic morals and laws,
which even seemed to them too strict for such a free republic. If a
Cossack stole the smallest trifle, it was considered a disgrace to the
whole Cossack community. He was bound to the pillar of shame, and a
club was laid beside him, with which each passer-by was bound to deal
him a blow until in this manner he was beaten to death. He who did not
pay his debts was chained to a cannon, until some one of his comrades
should decide to ransom him by paying his debts for him. But what made
the deepest impression on Andrii was the terrible punishment decreed
for murder. A hole was dug in his presence, the murderer was lowered
alive into it, and over him was placed a coffin containing the body of
the man he had killed, after which the earth was thrown upon both.
Long afterwards the fearful ceremony of this horrible execution
haunted his mind, and the man who had been buried alive appeared to
him with his terrible coffin.
Both the young Cossacks soon took a good standing among their fellows.
They often sallied out upon the steppe with comrades from their kuren,
and sometimes too with the whole kuren or with neighbouring kurens, to
shoot the innumerable steppe-birds of every sort, deer, and goats. Or
they went out upon the lakes, the river, and its tributaries allotted
to each kuren, to throw their nets and draw out rich prey for the
enjoyment of the whole kuren. Although unversed in any trade exercised
by a Cossack, they were soon remarked among the other youths for their
obstinate bravery and daring in everything. Skilfully and accurately
they fired at the mark, and swam the Dnieper against the current--a
deed for which the novice was triumphantly received into the circle of
But old Taras was planning a different sphere of activity for them.
Such an idle life was not to his mind; he wanted active employment. He
reflected incessantly how to stir up the Setch to some bold
enterprise, wherein a man could revel as became a warrior. At length
he went one day to the Koschevoi, and said plainly:--
"Well, Koschevoi, it is time for the Zaporozhtzi to set out."
"There is nowhere for them to go," replied the Koschevoi, removing his
short pipe from his mouth and spitting to one side.
"What do you mean by nowhere? We can go to Turkey or Tatary."
"Impossible to go either to Turkey or Tatary," replied the Koschevoi,
putting his pipe coolly into his mouth again.
"Why impossible?"
"It is so; we have promised the Sultan peace."
"But he is a Mussulman; and God and the Holy Scriptures command us to
slay Mussulmans."
"We have no right. If we had not sworn by our faith, it might be done;
but now it is impossible."
"How is it impossible? How can you say that we have no right? Here are
my two sons, both young men. Neither has been to war; and you say that
we have no right, and that there is no need for the Zaporozhtzi to set
out on an expedition."
"Well, it is not fitting."
"Then it must be fitting that Cossack strength should be wasted in
vain, that a man should disappear like a dog without having done a
single good deed, that he should be of no use to his country or to
Christianity! Why, then, do we live? What the deuce do we live for?
just tell me that. You are a sensible man, you were not chosen as
Koschevoi without reason: so just tell me what we live for?"
The Koschevoi made no reply to this question. He was an obstinate
Cossack. He was silent for a while, and then said, "Anyway, there will
not be war."
"There will not be war?" Taras asked again.
"Then it is no use thinking about it?"
"It is not to be thought of."
"Wait, you devil's limb!" said Taras to himself; "you shall learn to
know me!" and he at once resolved to have his revenge on the
Having made an agreement with several others, he gave them liquor; and
the drunken Cossacks staggered into the square, where on a post hung
the kettledrums which were generally beaten to assemble the people.
Not finding the sticks, which were kept by the drummer, they seized a
piece of wood and began to beat. The first to respond to the drum-beat
was the drummer, a tall man with but one eye, but a frightfully sleepy
one for all that.
"Who dares to beat the drum?" he shouted.
"Hold your tongue! take your sticks, and beat when you are ordered!"
replied the drunken men.
The drummer at once took from his pocket the sticks which he had
brought with him, well knowing the result of such proceedings. The
drum rattled, and soon black swarms of Cossacks began to collect like
bees in the square. All formed in a ring; and at length, after the
third summons, the chiefs began to arrive--the Koschevoi with staff in
hand, the symbol of his office; the judge with the army-seal; the
secretary with his ink-bottle; and the osaul with his staff. The
Koschevoi and the chiefs took off their caps and bowed on all sides to
the Cossacks, who stood proudly with their arms akimbo.
"What means this assemblage? what do you wish, gentles?" said the
Koschevoi. Shouts and exclamations interrupted his speech.
"Resign your staff! resign your staff this moment, you son of Satan!
we will have you no longer!" shouted some of the Cossacks in the
crowd. Some of the sober ones appeared to wish to oppose this, but
both sober and drunken fell to blows. The shouting and uproar became
The Koschevoi attempted to speak; but knowing that the self-willed
multitude, if enraged, might beat him to death, as almost always
happened in such cases, he bowed very low, laid down his staff, and
hid himself in the crowd.
"Do you command us, gentles, to resign our insignia of office?" said
the judge, the secretary, and the osaul, as they prepared to give up
the ink-horn, army-seal, and staff, upon the spot.
"No, you are to remain!" was shouted from the crowd. "We only wanted
to drive out the Koschevoi because he is a woman, and we want a man
for Koschevoi."
"Whom do you now elect as Koschevoi?" asked the chiefs.
"We choose Kukubenko," shouted some.
"We won't have Kukubenko!" screamed another party: "he is too young;
the milk has not dried off his lips yet."
"Let Schilo be hetman!" shouted some: "make Schilo our Koschevoi!"
"Away with your Schilo!" yelled the crowd; "what kind of a Cossack is
he who is as thievish as a Tatar? To the devil in a sack with your
drunken Schilo!"
"Borodaty! let us make Borodaty our Koschevoi!"
"We won't have Borodaty! To the evil one's mother with Borodaty!"
"Shout Kirdyanga!" whispered Taras Bulba to several.
"Kirdyanga, Kirdyanga!" shouted the crowd. "Borodaty, Borodaty!
Kirdyanga, Kirdyanga! Schilo! Away with Schilo! Kirdyanga!"
All the candidates, on hearing their names mentioned, quitted the
crowd, in order not to give any one a chance of supposing that they
were personally assisting in their election.
"Kirdyanga, Kirdyanga!" echoed more strongly than the rest.
They proceeded to decide the matter by a show of hands, and Kirdyanga
"Fetch Kirdyanga!" they shouted. Half a score of Cossacks immediately
left the crowd--some of them hardly able to keep their feet, to such
an extent had they drunk--and went directly to Kirdyanga to inform him
of his election.
Kirdyanga, a very old but wise Cossack, had been sitting for some time
in his kuren, as if he knew nothing of what was going on.
"What is it, gentles? What do you wish?" he inquired.
"Come, they have chosen you for Koschevoi."
"Have mercy, gentles!" said Kirdyanga. "How can I be worthy of such
honour? Why should I be made Koschevoi? I have not sufficient capacity
to fill such a post. Could no better person be found in all the army?"
"Come, I say!" shouted the Zaporozhtzi. Two of them seized him by the
arms; and in spite of his planting his feet firmly they finally
dragged him to the square, accompanying his progress with shouts,
blows from behind with their fists, kicks, and exhortations. "Don't
hold back, you son of Satan! Accept the honour, you dog, when it is
given!" In this manner Kirdyanga was conducted into the ring of
"How now, gentles?" announced those who had brought him, "are you
agreed that this Cossack shall be your Koschevoi?"
"We are all agreed!" shouted the throng, and the whole plain trembled
for a long time afterwards from the shout.
One of the chiefs took the staff and brought it to the newly elected
Koschevoi. Kirdyanga, in accordance with custom, immediately refused
it. The chief offered it a second time; Kirdyanga again refused it,
and then, at the third offer, accepted the staff. A cry of approbation
rang out from the crowd, and again the whole plain resounded afar with
the Cossacks' shout. Then there stepped out from among the people the
four oldest of them all, white-bearded, white-haired Cossacks; though
there were no very old men in the Setch, for none of the Zaporozhtzi
ever died in their beds. Taking each a handful of earth, which recent
rain had converted into mud, they laid it on Kirdyanga's head. The wet
earth trickled down from his head on to his moustache and cheeks and
smeared his whole face. But Kirdyanga stood immovable in his place,
and thanked the Cossacks for the honour shown him.
Thus ended the noisy election, concerning which we cannot say whether
it was as pleasing to the others as it was to Bulba; by means of it he
had revenged himself on the former Koschevoi. Moreover, Kirdyanga was
an old comrade, and had been with him on the same expeditions by sea
and land, sharing the toils and hardships of war. The crowd
immediately dispersed to celebrate the election, and such revelry
ensued as Ostap and Andrii had not yet beheld. The taverns were
attacked and mead, corn-brandy, and beer seized without payment, the
owners being only too glad to escape with whole skins themselves. The
whole night passed amid shouts, songs, and rejoicings; and the rising
moon gazed long at troops of musicians traversing the streets with
guitars, flutes, tambourines, and the church choir, who were kept in
the Setch to sing in church and glorify the deeds of the Zaporozhtzi.
At length drunkenness and fatigue began to overpower even these strong
heads, and here and there a Cossack could be seen to fall to the
ground, embracing a comrade in fraternal fashion; whilst maudlin, and
even weeping, the latter rolled upon the earth with him. Here a whole
group would lie down in a heap; there a man would choose the most
comfortable position and stretch himself out on a log of wood. The
last, and strongest, still uttered some incoherent speeches; finally
even they, yielding to the power of intoxication, flung themselves
down and all the Setch slept.
But next day Taras Bulba had a conference with the new Koschevoi as to
the method of exciting the Cossacks to some enterprise. The Koschevoi,
a shrewd and sensible Cossack, who knew the Zaporozhtzi thoroughly,
said at first, "Oaths cannot be violated by any means"; but after a
pause added, "No matter, it can be done. We will not violate them, but
let us devise something. Let the people assemble, not at my summons,
but of their own accord. You know how to manage that; and I will
hasten to the square with the chiefs, as though we know nothing about
Not an hour had elapsed after their conversation, when the drums again
thundered. The drunken and senseless Cossacks assembled. A myriad
Cossack caps were sprinkled over the square. A murmur arose, "Why?
What? Why was the assembly beaten?" No one answered. At length, in one
quarter and another, it began to be rumoured about, "Behold, the
Cossack strength is being vainly wasted: there is no war! Behold, our
leaders have become as marmots, every one; their eyes swim in fat!
Plainly, there is no justice in the world!" The other Cossacks
listened at first, and then began themselves to say, "In truth, there
is no justice in the world!" Their leaders seemed surprised at these
utterances. Finally the Koschevoi stepped forward: "Permit me,
Cossacks, to address you."
"Do so!"
"Touching the matter in question, gentles, none know better than
yourselves that many Zaporozhtzi have run in debt to the Jew ale-house
keepers and to their brethren, so that now they have not an atom of
credit. Again, touching the matter in question, there are many young
fellows who have no idea of what war is like, although you know,
gentles, that without war a young man cannot exist. How make a
Zaporozhetz out of him if he has never killed a Mussulman?"
"He speaks well," thought Bulba.
"Think not, however, gentles, that I speak thus in order to break the
truce; God forbid! I merely mention it. Besides, it is a shame to see
what sort of church we have for our God. Not only has the church
remained without exterior decoration during all the years which by
God's mercy the Setch has stood, but up to this day even the holy
pictures have no adornments. No one has even thought of making them a
silver frame; they have only received what some Cossacks have left
them in their wills; and these gifts were poor, since they had drunk
up nearly all they had during their lifetime. I am making you this
speech, therefore, not in order to stir up a war against the
Mussulmans; we have promised the Sultan peace, and it would be a great
sin in us to break this promise, for we swore it on our law."
"What is he mixing things up like that for?" said Bulba to himself.
"So you see, gentles, that war cannot be begun; honour does not permit
it. But according to my poor opinion, we might, I think, send out a
few young men in boats and let them plunder the coasts of Anatolia a
little. What do you think, gentles?"
"Lead us, lead us all!" shouted the crowd on all sides. "We are ready
to lay down our lives for our faith."
The Koschevoi was alarmed. He by no means wished to stir up all
Zaporozhe; a breach of the truce appeared to him on this occasion
unsuitable. "Permit me, gentles, to address you further."
"Enough!" yelled the Cossacks; "you can say nothing better."
"If it must be so, then let it be so. I am the slave of your will. We
know, and from Scripture too, that the voice of the people is the
voice of God. It is impossible to devise anything better than the
whole nation has devised. But here lies the difficulty; you know,
gentles, that the Sultan will not permit that which delights our young
men to go unpunished. We should be prepared at such a time, and our
forces should be fresh, and then we should fear no one. But during
their absence the Tatars may assemble fresh forces; the dogs do not
show themselves in sight and dare not come while the master is at
home, but they can bite his heels from behind, and bite painfully too.
And if I must tell you the truth, we have not boats enough, nor powder
ready in sufficient quantity, for all to go. But I am ready, if you
please; I am the slave of your will."
The cunning hetman was silent. The various groups began to discuss the
matter, and the hetmans of the kurens to take counsel together; few
were drunk fortunately, so they decided to listen to reason.
A number of men set out at once for the opposite shore of the Dnieper,
to the treasury of the army, where in strictest secrecy, under water
and among the reeds, lay concealed the army chest and a portion of the
arms captured from the enemy. Others hastened to inspect the boats and
prepare them for service. In a twinkling the whole shore was thronged
with men. Carpenters appeared with axes in their hands. Old,
weatherbeaten, broad-shouldered, strong-legged Zaporozhtzi, with black
or silvered moustaches, rolled up their trousers, waded up to their
knees in water, and dragged the boats on to the shore with stout
ropes; others brought seasoned timber and all sorts of wood. The boats
were freshly planked, turned bottom upwards, caulked and tarred, and
then bound together side by side after Cossack fashion, with long
strands of reeds, so that the swell of the waves might not sink them.
Far along the shore they built fires and heated tar in copper
cauldrons to smear the boats. The old and the experienced instructed
the young. The blows and shouts of the workers rose all over the
neighbourhood; the bank shook and moved about.
About this time a large ferry-boat began to near the shore. The mass
of people standing in it began to wave their hands from a distance.
They were Cossacks in torn, ragged gaberdines. Their disordered
garments, for many had on nothing but their shirts, with a short pipe
in their mouths, showed that they had either escaped from some
disaster or had caroused to such an extent that they had drunk up all
they had on their bodies. A short, broad-shouldered Cossack of about
fifty stepped out from the midst of them and stood in front. He
shouted and waved his hand more vigorously than any of the others; but
his words could not be heard for the cries and hammering of the
"Whence come you!" asked the Koschevoi, as the boat touched the shore.
All the workers paused in their labours, and, raising their axes and
chisels, looked on expectantly.
"From a misfortune!" shouted the short Cossack.
"From what?"
"Permit me, noble Zaporozhtzi, to address you."
"Or would you prefer to assemble a council?"
"Speak, we are all here."
The people all pressed together in one mass.
"Have you then heard nothing of what has been going on in the hetman's
"What is it?" inquired one of the kuren hetmans.
"Eh! what! Evidently the Tatars have plastered up your ears so that
you might hear nothing."
"Tell us then; what has been going on there?"
"That is going on the like of which no man born or christened ever yet
has seen."
"Tell us what it is, you son of a dog!" shouted one of the crowd,
apparently losing patience.
"Things have come to such a pass that our holy churches are no longer
"How not ours?"
"They are pledged to the Jews. If the Jew is not first paid, there can
be no mass."
"What are you saying?"
"And if the dog of a Jew does not make a sign with his unclean hand
over the holy Easter-bread, it cannot be consecrated."
"He lies, brother gentles. It cannot be that an unclean Jew puts his
mark upon the holy Easter-bread."
"Listen! I have not yet told all. Catholic priests are going about all
over the Ukraine in carts. The harm lies not in the carts, but in the
fact that not horses, but orthodox Christians[1], are harnessed to
them. Listen! I have not yet told all. They say that the Jewesses are
making themselves petticoats out of our popes' vestments. Such are the
deeds that are taking place in the Ukraine, gentles! And you sit here
revelling in Zaporozhe; and evidently the Tatars have so scared you
that you have no eyes, no ears, no anything, and know nothing that is
going on in the world."
[1] That is of the Greek Church. The Poles were Catholics.
"Stop, stop!" broke in the Koschevoi, who up to that moment had stood
with his eyes fixed upon the earth like all Zaporozhtzi, who, on
important occasions, never yielded to their first impulse, but kept
silence, and meanwhile concentrated inwardly all the power of their
indignation. "Stop! I also have a word to say. But what were you
about? When your father the devil was raging thus, what were you doing
yourselves? Had you no swords? How came you to permit such
"Eh! how did we come to permit such lawlessness? You would have tried
when there were fifty thousand of the Lyakhs[2] alone; yes, and it is
a shame not to be concealed, when there are also dogs among us who
have already accepted their faith."
[2] Lyakhs, an opprobrious name for the Poles.
"But your hetman and your leaders, what have they done?"
"God preserve any one from such deeds as our leaders performed!"
"How so?"
"Our hetman, roasted in a brazen ox, now lies in Warsaw; and the heads
and hands of our leaders are being carried to all the fairs as a
spectacle for the people. That is what our leaders did."
The whole throng became wildly excited. At first silence reigned all
along the shore, like that which precedes a tempest; and then suddenly
voices were raised and all the shore spoke:--
"What! The Jews hold the Christian churches in pledge! Roman Catholic
priests have harnessed and beaten orthodox Christians! What! such
torture has been permitted on Russian soil by the cursed unbelievers!
And they have done such things to the leaders and the hetman? Nay,
this shall not be, it shall not be." Such words came from all
quarters. The Zaporozhtzi were moved, and knew their power. It was not
the excitement of a giddy-minded folk. All who were thus agitated were
strong, firm characters, not easily aroused, but, once aroused,
preserving their inward heat long and obstinately. "Hang all the
Jews!" rang through the crowd. "They shall not make petticoats for
their Jewesses out of popes' vestments! They shall not place their
signs upon the holy wafers! Drown all the heathens in the Dnieper!"
These words uttered by some one in the throng flashed like lightning
through all minds, and the crowd flung themselves upon the suburb with
the intention of cutting the throats of all the Jews.
The poor sons of Israel, losing all presence of mind, and not being in
any case courageous, hid themselves in empty brandy-casks, in ovens,
and even crawled under the skirts of their Jewesses; but the Cossacks
found them wherever they were.
"Gracious nobles!" shrieked one Jew, tall and thin as a stick,
thrusting his sorry visage, distorted with terror, from among a group
of his comrades, "gracious nobles! suffer us to say a word, only one
word. We will reveal to you what you never yet have heard, a thing
more important than I can say--very important!"
"Well, say it," said Bulba, who always liked to hear what an accused
man had to say.
"Gracious nobles," exclaimed the Jew, "such nobles were never seen, by
heavens, never! Such good, kind, and brave men there never were in the
world before!" His voice died away and quivered with fear. "How was it
possible that we should think any evil of the Zaporozhtzi? Those men
are not of us at all, those who have taken pledges in the Ukraine. By
heavens, they are not of us! They are not Jews at all. The evil one
alone knows what they are; they are only fit to be spit upon and cast
aside. Behold, my brethren, say the same! Is it not true, Schloma? is
it not true, Schmul?"
"By heavens, it is true!" replied Schloma and Schmul, from among the
crowd, both pale as clay, in their ragged caps.
"We never yet," continued the tall Jew, "have had any secret
intercourse with your enemies, and we will have nothing to do with
Catholics; may the evil one fly away with them! We are like own
brothers to the Zaporozhtzi."
"What! the Zaporozhtzi are brothers to you!" exclaimed some one in the
crowd. "Don't wait! the cursed Jews! Into the Dnieper with them,
gentles! Drown all the unbelievers!"
These words were the signal. They seized the Jews by the arms and
began to hurl them into the waves. Pitiful cries resounded on all
sides; but the stern Zaporozhtzi only laughed when they saw the Jewish
legs, cased in shoes and stockings, struggling in the air. The poor
orator who had called down destruction upon himself jumped out of the
caftan, by which they had seized him, and in his scant parti-coloured
under waistcoat clasped Bulba's legs, and cried, in piteous tones,
"Great lord! gracious noble! I knew your brother, the late Doroscha.
He was a warrior who was an ornament to all knighthood. I gave him
eight hundred sequins when he was obliged to ransom himself from the
"You knew my brother?" asked Taras.
"By heavens, I knew him. He was a magnificent nobleman."
"And what is your name?"
"Good," said Taras; and after reflecting, he turned to the Cossacks
and spoke as follows: "There will always be plenty of time to hang the
Jew, if it proves necessary; but for to-day give him to me."
So saying, Taras led him to his waggon, beside which stood his
Cossacks. "Crawl under the waggon; lie down, and do not move. And you,
brothers, do not surrender this Jew."
So saying, he returned to the square, for the whole crowd had long
since collected there. All had at once abandoned the shore and the
preparation of the boats; for a land-journey now awaited them, and not
a sea-voyage, and they needed horses and waggons, not ships. All, both
young and old, wanted to go on the expedition; and it was decided, on
the advice of the chiefs, the hetmans of the kurens, and the
Koschevoi, and with the approbation of the whole Zaporozhtzian army,
to march straight to Poland, to avenge the injury and disgrace to
their faith and to Cossack renown, to seize booty from the cities, to
burn villages and grain, and spread their glory far over the steppe.
All at once girded and armed themselves. The Koschevoi grew a whole
foot taller. He was no longer the timid executor of the restless
wishes of a free people, but their untrammelled master. He was a
despot, who know only to command. All the independent and
pleasure-loving warriors stood in an orderly line, with respectfully
bowed heads, not venturing to raise their eyes, when the Koschevoi
gave his orders. He gave these quietly, without shouting and without
haste, but with pauses between, like an experienced man deeply learned
in Cossack affairs, and carrying into execution, not for the first
time, a wisely matured enterprise.
"Examine yourselves, look well to yourselves; examine all your
equipments thoroughly," he said; "put your teams and your tar-boxes[3]
in order; test your weapons. Take not many clothes with you: a shirt
and a couple of pairs of trousers to each Cossack, and a pot of
oatmeal and millet apiece--let no one take any more. There will be
plenty of provisions, all that is needed, in the waggons. Let every
Cossack have two horses. And two hundred yoke of oxen must be taken,
for we shall require them at the fords and marshy places. Keep order,
gentles, above all things. I know that there are some among you whom
God has made so greedy that they would like to tear up silk and velvet
for foot-cloths. Leave off such devilish habits; reject all garments
as plunder, and take only weapons: though if valuables offer
themselves, ducats or silver, they are useful in any case. I tell you
this beforehand, gentles, if any one gets drunk on the expedition, he
will have a short shrift: I will have him dragged by the neck like a
dog behind the baggage waggons, no matter who he may be, even were he
the most heroic Cossack in the whole army; he shall be shot on the
spot like a dog, and flung out, without sepulture, to be torn by the
birds of prey, for a drunkard on the march deserves no Christian
burial. Young men, obey the old men in all things! If a ball grazes
you, or a sword cuts your head or any other part, attach no importance
to such trifles. Mix a charge of powder in a cup of brandy, quaff it
heartily, and all will pass off--you will not even have any fever; and
if the wound is large, put simple earth upon it, mixing it first with
spittle in your palm, and that will dry it up. And now to work, to
work, lads, and look well to all, and without haste."
[3] The Cossack waggons have their axles smeared with tar instead of
So spoke the Koschevoi; and no sooner had he finished his speech than
all the Cossacks at once set to work. All the Setch grew sober.
Nowhere was a single drunken man to be found, it was as though there
never had been such a thing among the Cossacks. Some attended to the
tyres of the wheels, others changed the axles of the waggons; some
carried sacks of provisions to them or leaded them with arms; others
again drove up the horses and oxen. On all sides resounded the tramp
of horses' hoofs, test-shots from the guns, the clank of swords, the
lowing of oxen, the screech of rolling waggons, talking, sharp cries
and urging-on of cattle. Soon the Cossack force spread far over all
the plain; and he who might have undertaken to run from its van to its
rear would have had a long course. In the little wooden church the
priest was offering up prayers and sprinkling all worshippers with
holy water. All kissed the cross. When the camp broke up and the army
moved out of the Setch, all the Zaporozhtzi turned their heads back.
"Farewell, our mother!" they said almost in one breath. "May God
preserve thee from all misfortune!"
As he passed through the suburb, Taras Bulba saw that his Jew, Yankel,
had already erected a sort of booth with an awning, and was selling
flint, screwdrivers, powder, and all sorts of military stores needed
on the road, even to rolls and bread. "What devils these Jews are!"
thought Taras; and riding up to him, he said, "Fool, why are you
sitting here? do you want to be shot like a crow?"
Yankel in reply approached nearer, and making a sign with both hands,
as though wishing to impart some secret, said, "Let the noble lord but
keep silence and say nothing to any one. Among the Cossack waggons is
a waggon of mine. I am carrying all sorts of needful stores for the
Cossacks, and on the journey I will furnish every sort of provisions
at a lower price than any Jew ever sold at before. 'Tis so, by
heavens! by heavens, 'tis so!"
Taras Bulba shrugged his shoulders in amazement at the Jewish nature,
and went on to the camp.
All South-west Poland speedily became a prey to fear. Everywhere the
rumour flew, "The Zaporozhtzi! The Zaporozhtzi have appeared!" All who
could flee did so. All rose and scattered after the manner of that
lawless, reckless age, when they built neither fortresses nor castles,
but each man erected a temporary dwelling of straw wherever he
happened to find himself. He thought, "It is useless to waste money
and labour on an izba, when the roving Tatars will carry it off in any
case." All was in an uproar: one exchanged his plough and oxen for a
horse and gun, and joined an armed band; another, seeking concealment,
drove off his cattle and carried off all the household stuff he could.
Occasionally, on the road, some were encountered who met their
visitors with arms in their hands; but the majority fled before their
arrival. All knew that it was hard to deal with the raging and warlike
throng known by the name of the Zaporozhian army; a body which, under
its independent and disorderly exterior, concealed an organisation
well calculated for times of battle. The horsemen rode steadily on
without overburdening or heating their horses; the foot-soldiers
marched only by night, resting during the day, and selecting for this
purpose desert tracts, uninhabited spots, and forests, of which there
were then plenty. Spies and scouts were sent ahead to study the time,
place, and method of attack. And lo! the Zaporozhtzi suddenly appeared
in those places where they were least expected: then all were put to
the sword; the villages were burned; and the horses and cattle which
were not driven off behind the army killed upon the spot. They seemed
to be fiercely revelling, rather than carrying out a military
expedition. Our hair would stand on end nowadays at the horrible
traits of that fierce, half-civilised age, which the Zaporozhtzi
everywhere exhibited: children killed, women's breasts cut open, the
skin flayed from the legs up to the knees, and the victim then set at
liberty. In short, the Cossacks paid their former debts in coin of
full weight. The abbot of one monastery, on hearing of their approach,
sent two monks to say that they were not behaving as they should; that
there was an agreement between the Zaporozhtzi and the government;
that they were breaking faith with the king, and violating all
international rights. "Tell your bishop from me and from all the
Zaporozhtzi," said the Koschevoi, "that he has nothing to fear: the
Cossacks, so far, have only lighted and smoked their pipes." And the
magnificent abbey was soon wrapped in the devouring flames, its tall
Gothic windows showing grimly through the waves of fire as they
parted. The fleeing mass of monks, women, and Jews thronged into those
towns where any hope lay in the garrison and the civic forces. The aid
sent in season by the government, but delayed on the way, consisted of
a few troops which either were unable to enter the towns or, seized
with fright, turned their backs at the very first encounter and fled
on their swift horses. However, several of the royal commanders, who
had conquered in former battles, resolved to unite their forces and
confront the Zaporozhtzi.
And here, above all, did our young Cossacks, disgusted with pillage,
greed, and a feeble foe, and burning with the desire to distinguish
themselves in presence of their chiefs, seek to measure themselves in
single combat with the warlike and boastful Lyakhs, prancing on their
spirited horses, with the sleeves of their jackets thrown back and
streaming in the wind. This game was inspiriting; they won at it many
costly sets of horse-trappings and valuable weapons. In a month the
scarcely fledged birds attained their full growth, were completely
transformed, and became men; their features, in which hitherto a trace
of youthful softness had been visible, grew strong and grim. But it
was pleasant to old Taras to see his sons among the foremost. It
seemed as though Ostap were designed by nature for the game of war and
the difficult science of command. Never once losing his head or
becoming confused under any circumstances, he could, with a cool
audacity almost supernatural in a youth of two-and-twenty, in an
instant gauge the danger and the whole scope of the matter, could at
once devise a means of escaping, but of escaping only that he might
the more surely conquer. His movements now began to be marked by the
assurance which comes from experience, and in them could be detected
the germ of the future leader. His person strengthened, and his
bearing grew majestically leonine. "What a fine leader he will make
one of these days!" said old Taras. "He will make a splendid leader,
far surpassing even his father!"
Andrii gave himself up wholly to the enchanting music of blades and
bullets. He knew not what it was to consider, or calculate, or to
measure his own as against the enemy's strength. He gazed on battle
with mad delight and intoxication: he found something festal in the
moments when a man's brain burns, when all things wave and flutter
before his eyes, when heads are stricken off, horses fall to the earth
with a sound of thunder, and he rides on like a drunken man, amid the
whistling of bullets and the flashing of swords, dealing blows to all,
and heeding not those aimed at himself. More than once their father
marvelled too at Andrii, seeing him, stirred only by a flash of
impulse, dash at something which a sensible man in cold blood never
would have attempted, and, by the sheer force of his mad attack,
accomplish such wonders as could not but amaze even men grown old in
battle. Old Taras admired and said, "And he too will make a good
warrior if the enemy does not capture him meanwhile. He is not Ostap,
but he is a dashing warrior, nevertheless."
The army decided to march straight on the city of Dubno, which, rumour
said, contained much wealth and many rich inhabitants. The journey was
accomplished in a day and a half, and the Zaporozhtzi appeared before
the city. The inhabitants resolved to defend themselves to the utmost
extent of their power, and to fight to the last extremity, preferring
to die in their squares and streets, and on their thresholds, rather
than admit the enemy to their houses. A high rampart of earth
surrounded the city; and in places where it was low or weak, it was
strengthened by a wall of stone, or a house which served as a redoubt,
or even an oaken stockade. The garrison was strong and aware of the
importance of their position. The Zaporozhtzi attacked the wall
fiercely, but were met with a shower of grapeshot. The citizens and
residents of the town evidently did not wish to remain idle, but
gathered on the ramparts; in their eyes could be read desperate
resistance. The women too were determined to take part in the fray,
and upon the heads of the Zaporozhians rained down stones, casks of
boiling water, and sacks of lime which blinded them. The Zaporozhtzi
were not fond of having anything to do with fortified places: sieges
were not in their line. The Koschevoi ordered them to retreat, saying,
"It is useless, brother gentles; we will retire: but may I be a
heathen Tatar, and not a Christian, if we do not clear them out of
that town! may they all perish of hunger, the dogs!" The army
retreated, surrounded the town, and, for lack of something to do,
busied themselves with devastating the surrounding country, burning
the neighbouring villages and the ricks of unthreshed grain, and
turning their droves of horses loose in the cornfields, as yet
untouched by the reaping-hook, where the plump ears waved, fruit, as
luck would have it, of an unusually good harvest which should have
liberally rewarded all tillers of the soil that season.
With horror those in the city beheld their means of subsistence
destroyed. Meanwhile the Zaporozhtzi, having formed a double ring of
their waggons around the city, disposed themselves as in the Setch in
kurens, smoked their pipes, bartered their booty for weapons, played
at leapfrog and odd-and-even, and gazed at the city with deadly
cold-bloodedness. At night they lighted their camp fires, and the
cooks boiled the porridge for each kuren in huge copper cauldrons;
whilst an alert sentinel watched all night beside the blazing fire.
But the Zaporozhtzi soon began to tire of inactivity and prolonged
sobriety, unaccompanied by any fighting. The Koschevoi even ordered
the allowance of wine to be doubled, which was sometimes done in the
army when no difficult enterprises or movements were on hand. The
young men, and Taras Bulba's sons in particular, did not like this
life. Andrii was visibly bored. "You silly fellow!" said Taras to him,
"be patient, you will be hetman one day. He is not a good warrior who
loses heart in an important enterprise; but he who is not tired even
of inactivity, who endures all, and who even if he likes a thing can
give it up." But hot youth cannot agree with age; the two have
different natures, and look at the same thing with different eyes.
But in the meantime Taras's band, led by Tovkatch, arrived; with him
were also two osauls, the secretary, and other regimental officers:
the Cossacks numbered over four thousand in all. There were among them
many volunteers, who had risen of their own free will, without any
summons, as soon as they had heard what the matter was. The osauls
brought to Taras's sons the blessing of their aged mother, and to each
a picture in a cypress-wood frame from the Mezhigorski monastery at
Kief. The two brothers hung the pictures round their necks, and
involuntarily grew pensive as they remembered their old mother. What
did this blessing prophecy? Was it a blessing for their victory over
the enemy, and then a joyous return to their home with booty and
glory, to be everlastingly commemorated in the songs of
guitar-players? or was it . . . ? But the future is unknown, and
stands before a man like autumnal fogs rising from the swamps; birds
fly foolishly up and down in it with flapping wings, never recognising
each other, the dove seeing not the vulture, nor the vulture the dove,
and no one knowing how far he may be flying from destruction.
Ostap had long since attended to his duties and gone to the kuren.
Andrii, without knowing why, felt a kind of oppression at his heart.
The Cossacks had finished their evening meal; the wonderful July night
had completely fallen; still he did not go to the kuren, nor lie down
to sleep, but gazed unconsciously at the whole scene before him. In
the sky innumerable stars twinkled brightly. The plain was covered far
and wide with scattered waggons with swinging tar-buckets, smeared
with tar, and loaded with every description of goods and provisions
captured from the foe. Beside the waggons, under the waggons, and far
beyond the waggons, Zaporozhtzi were everywhere visible, stretched
upon the grass. They all slumbered in picturesque attitudes; one had
thrust a sack under his head, another his cap, and another simply made
use of his comrade's side. Swords, guns, matchlocks, short pipe-stems
with copper mountings, iron awls, and a flint and steel were
inseparable from every Cossack. The heavy oxen lay with their feet
doubled under them like huge whitish masses, and at a distance looked
like gray stones scattered on the slopes of the plain. On all sides
the heavy snores of sleeping warriors began to arise from the grass,
and were answered from the plain by the ringing neighs of their
steeds, chafing at their hobbled feet. Meanwhile a certain threatening
magnificence had mingled with the beauty of the July night. It was the
distant glare of the burning district afar. In one place the flames
spread quietly and grandly over the sky; in another, suddenly bursting
into a whirlwind, they hissed and flew upwards to the very stars, and
floating fragments died away in the most distant quarter of the
heavens. Here the black, burned monastery like a grim Carthusian monk
stood threatening, and displaying its dark magnificence at every
flash; there blazed the monastery garden. It seemed as though the
trees could be heard hissing as they stood wrapped in smoke; and when
the fire burst forth, it suddenly lighted up the ripe plums with a
phosphoric lilac-coloured gleam, or turned the yellowing pears here
and there to pure gold. In the midst of them hung black against the
wall of the building, or the trunk of a tree, the body of some poor
Jew or monk who had perished in the flames with the structure. Above
the distant fires hovered a flock of birds, like a cluster of tiny
black crosses upon a fiery field. The town thus laid bare seemed to
sleep; the spires and roofs, and its palisade and walls, gleamed
quietly in the glare of the distant conflagrations. Andrii went the
rounds of the Cossack ranks. The camp-fires, beside which the
sentinels sat, were ready to go out at any moment; and even the
sentinels slept, having devoured oatmeal and dumplings with true
Cossack appetites. He was astonished at such carelessness, thinking,
"It is well that there is no strong enemy at hand and nothing to
fear." Finally he went to one of the waggons, climbed into it, and lay
down upon his back, putting his clasped hands under his head; but he
could not sleep, and gazed long at the sky. It was all open before
him; the air was pure and transparent; the dense clusters of stars in
the Milky Way, crossing the sky like a belt, were flooded with light.
From time to time Andrii in some degree lost consciousness, and a
light mist of dream veiled the heavens from him for a moment; but then
he awoke, and they became visible again.
During one of these intervals it seemed to him that some strange human
figure flitted before him. Thinking it to be merely a vision which
would vanish at once, he opened his eyes, and beheld a withered,
emaciated face bending over him, and gazing straight into his own.
Long coal-black hair, unkempt, dishevelled, fell from beneath a dark
veil which had been thrown over the head; whilst the strange gleam of
the eyes, and the death-like tone of the sharp-cut features, inclined
him to think that it was an apparition. His hand involuntarily grasped
his gun; and he exclaimed almost convulsively: "Who are you? If you
are an evil spirit, avaunt! If you are a living being, you have chosen
an ill time for your jest. I will kill you with one shot."
In answer to this, the apparition laid its finger upon its lips and
seemed to entreat silence. He dropped his hands and began to look more
attentively. He recognised it to be a woman from the long hair, the
brown neck, and the half-concealed bosom. But she was not a native of
those regions: her wide cheek-bones stood out prominently over her
hollow cheeks; her small eyes were obliquely set. The more he gazed at
her features, the more he found them familiar. Finally he could
restrain himself no longer, and said, "Tell me, who are you? It seems
to me that I know you, or have seen you somewhere."
"Two years ago in Kief."
"Two years ago in Kief!" repeated Andrii, endeavouring to collect in
his mind all that lingered in his memory of his former student life.
He looked intently at her once more, and suddenly exclaimed at the top
of his voice, "You are the Tatar! the servant of the lady, the
Waiwode's daughter!"
"Sh!" cried the Tatar, clasping her hands with a supplicating glance,
trembling all over, and turning her head round in order to see whether
any one had been awakened by Andrii's loud exclamation.
"Tell me, tell me, why are you here?" said Andrii almost breathlessly,
in a whisper, interrupted every moment by inward emotion. "Where is
the lady? is she alive?"
"She is now in the city."
"In the city!" he exclaimed, again almost in a shriek, and feeling all
the blood suddenly rush to his heart. "Why is she in the city?"
"Because the old lord himself is in the city: he has been Waiwode of
Dubno for the last year and a half."
"Is she married? How strange you are! Tell me about her."
"She has eaten nothing for two days."
"And not one of the inhabitants has had a morsel of bread for a long
while; all have long been eating earth."
Andrii was astounded.
"The lady saw you from the city wall, among the Zaporozhtzi. She said
to me, 'Go tell the warrior: if he remembers me, let him come to me;
and do not forget to make him give you a bit of bread for my aged
mother, for I do not wish to see my mother die before my very eyes.
Better that I should die first, and she afterwards! Beseech him; clasp
his knees, his feet: he also has an aged mother, let him give you the
bread for her sake!'"
Many feelings awoke in the young Cossack's breast.
"But how came you here? how did you get here?"
"By an underground passage."
"Is there an underground passage?"
"You will not betray it, warrior?"
"I swear it by the holy cross!"
"You descend into a hole, and cross the brook, yonder among the
"And it leads into the city?"
"Straight into the monastery."
"Let us go, let us go at once."
"A bit of bread, in the name of Christ and of His holy mother!"
"Good, so be it. Stand here beside the waggon, or, better still, lie
down in it: no one will see you, all are asleep. I will return at
And he set off for the baggage waggons, which contained the provisions
belonging to their kuren. His heart beat. All the past, all that had
been extinguished by the Cossack bivouacks, and by the stern battle of
life, flamed out at once on the surface and drowned the present in its
turn. Again, as from the dark depths of the sea, the noble lady rose
before him: again there gleamed in his memory her beautiful arms, her
eyes, her laughing mouth, her thick dark-chestnut hair, falling in
curls upon her shoulders, and the firm, well-rounded limbs of her
maiden form. No, they had not been extinguished in his breast, they
had not vanished, they had simply been laid aside, in order, for a
time, to make way for other strong emotions; but often, very often,
the young Cossack's deep slumber had been troubled by them, and often
he had lain sleepless on his couch, without being able to explain the
His heart beat more violently at the thought of seeing her again, and
his young knees shook. On reaching the baggage waggons, he had quite
forgotten what he had come for; he raised his hand to his brow and
rubbed it long, trying to recollect what he was to do. At length he
shuddered, and was filled with terror as the thought suddenly occurred
to him that she was dying of hunger. He jumped upon the waggon and
seized several large loaves of black bread; but then he thought, "Is
this not food, suited to a robust and easily satisfied Zaporozhetz,
too coarse and unfit for her delicate frame?" Then he recollected that
the Koschevoi, on the previous evening, had reproved the cooks for
having cooked up all the oatmeal into porridge at once, when there was
plenty for three times. Sure that he would find plenty of porridge in
the kettles, he drew out his father's travelling kettle and went with
it to the cook of their kuren, who was sleeping beside two big
cauldrons, holding about ten pailfuls, under which the ashes still
glowed. Glancing into them, he was amazed to find them empty. It must
have required supernatural powers to eat it all; the more so, as their
kuren numbered fewer than the others. He looked into the cauldron of
the other kurens--nothing anywhere. Involuntarily the saying recurred
to his mind, "The Zaporozhtzi are like children: if there is little
they eat it, if there is much they leave nothing." What was to be
done? There was, somewhere in the waggon belonging to his father's
band, a sack of white bread, which they had found when they pillaged
the bakery of the monastery. He went straight to his father's waggon,
but it was not there. Ostap had taken it and put it under his head;
and there he lay, stretched out on the ground, snoring so that the
whole plain rang again. Andrii seized the sack abruptly with one hand
and gave it a jerk, so that Ostap's head fell to the ground. The elder
brother sprang up in his sleep, and, sitting there with closed eyes,
shouted at the top of his lungs, "Stop them! Stop the cursed Lyakhs!
Catch the horses! catch the horses!"--"Silence! I'll kill you,"
shouted Andrii in terror, flourishing the sack over him. But Ostap did
not continue his speech, sank down again, and gave such a snore that
the grass on which he lay waved with his breath.
Andrii glanced timidly on all sides to see if Ostap's talking in his
sleep had waked any of the Cossacks. Only one long-locked head was
raised in the adjoining kuren, and after glancing about, was dropped
back on the ground. After waiting a couple of minutes he set out with
his load. The Tatar woman was lying where he had left her, scarcely
breathing. "Come, rise up. Fear not, all are sleeping. Can you take
one of these loaves if I cannot carry all?" So saying, he swung the
sack on to his back, pulled out another sack of millet as he passed
the waggon, took in his hands the loaves he had wanted to give the
Tatar woman to carry, and, bending somewhat under the load, went
boldly through the ranks of sleeping Zaporozhtzi.
"Andrii," said old Bulba, as he passed. His heart died within him. He
halted, trembling, and said softly, "What is it?"
"There's a woman with you. When I get up I'll give you a sound
thrashing. Women will lead you to no good." So saying, he leaned his
hand upon his hand and gazed intently at the muffled form of the
Andrii stood there, more dead than alive, not daring to look in his
father's face. When he did raise his eyes and glance at him, old Bulba
was asleep, with his head still resting in the palm of his hand.
Andrii crossed himself. Fear fled from his heart even more rapidly
than it had assailed it. When he turned to look at the Tatar woman,
she stood before him, muffled in her mantle, like a dark granite
statue, and the gleam of the distant dawn lighted up only her eyes,
dull as those of a corpse. He plucked her by the sleeve, and both went
on together, glancing back continually. At length they descended the
slope of a small ravine, almost a hole, along the bottom of which a
brook flowed lazily, overgrown with sedge, and strewed with mossy
boulders. Descending into this ravine, they were completely concealed
from the view of all the plain occupied by the Zaporovian camp. At
least Andrii, glancing back, saw that the steep slope rose behind him
higher than a man. On its summit appeared a few blades of
steppe-grass; and behind them, in the sky, hung the moon, like a
golden sickle. The breeze rising on the steppe warned them that the
dawn was not far off. But nowhere was the crow of the cock heard.
Neither in the city nor in the devastated neighbourhood had there been
a cock for a long time past. They crossed the brook on a small plank,
beyond which rose the opposite bank, which appeared higher than the
one behind them and rose steeply. It seemed as though this were the
strong point of the citadel upon which the besieged could rely; at all
events, the earthen wall was lower there, and no garrison appeared
behind it. But farther on rose the thick monastery walls. The steep
bank was overgrown with steppe-grass, and in the narrow ravine between
it and the brook grew tall reeds almost as high as a man. At the
summit of the bank were the remains of a wattled fence, which had
formerly surrounded some garden, and in front of it were visible the
wide leaves of the burdock, from among which rose blackthorn, and
sunflowers lifting their heads high above all the rest. Here the Tatar
flung off her slippers and went barefoot, gathering her clothes up
carefully, for the spot was marshy and full of water. Forcing their
way among the reeds, they stopped before a ruined outwork. Skirting
this outwork, they found a sort of earthen arch--an opening not much
larger than the opening of an oven. The Tatar woman bent her head and
went first. Andrii followed, bending low as he could, in order to pass
with his sacks; and both soon found themselves in total darkness.
Andrii could hardly move in the dark and narrow earthen burrow, as he
followed the Tatar, dragging after him his sacks of bread. "It will
soon be light," said his guide: "we are approaching the spot where I
placed a light." And in fact the dark earthen walls began to be
gradually lit up. They reached a widening in the passage where, it
seemed, there had once been a chapel; at least, there was a small
table against the wall, like an altar, and above, the faded, almost
entirely obliterated picture of a Catholic Madonna. A small silver
lamp hanging before it barely illumined it. The Tatar stooped and
picked up from the ground a copper candlestick which she had left
there, a candlestick with a tall, slender stem, and snuffers, pin, and
extinguisher hanging about it on chains. She lighted it at the silver
lamp. The light grew stronger; and as they went on, now illumined by
it, and again enveloped in pitchy shadow, they suggested a picture by
Gerard Dow.
The warrior's fresh, handsome countenance, overflowing with health and
youth, presented a strong contrast to the pale, emaciated face of his
companion. The passage grew a little higher, so that Andrii could hold
himself erect. He gazed with curiosity at the earthen walls. Here and
there, as in the catacombs at Kief, were niches in the walls; and in
some places coffins were standing. Sometimes they came across human
bones which had become softened with the dampness and were crumbling
into dust. It was evident that pious folk had taken refuge here from
the storms, sorrows, and seductions of the world. It was extremely
damp in some places; indeed there was water under their feet at
intervals. Andrii was forced to halt frequently to allow his companion
to rest, for her fatigue kept increasing. The small piece of bread she
had swallowed only caused a pain in her stomach, of late unused to
food; and she often stood motionless for minutes together in one spot.
At length a small iron door appeared before them. "Glory be to God, we
have arrived!" said the Tatar in a faint voice, and tried to lift her
hand to knock, but had no strength to do so. Andrii knocked hard at
the door in her stead. There was an echo as though a large space lay
beyond the door; then the echo changed as if resounding through lofty
arches. In a couple of minutes, keys rattled, and steps were heard
descending some stairs. At length the door opened, and a monk,
standing on the narrow stairs with the key and a light in his hands,
admitted them. Andrii involuntarily halted at the sight of a Catholic
monk--one of those who had aroused such hate and disdain among the
Cossacks that they treated them even more inhumanly than they treated
the Jews.
The monk, on his part, started back on perceiving a Zaporovian
Cossack, but a whisper from the Tatar reassured him. He lighted them
in, fastened the door behind them, and led them up the stairs. They
found themselves beneath the dark and lofty arches of the monastery
church. Before one of the altars, adorned with tall candlesticks and
candles, knelt a priest praying quietly. Near him on each side knelt
two young choristers in lilac cassocks and white lace stoles, with
censers in their hands. He prayed for the performance of a miracle,
that the city might be saved; that their souls might be strengthened;
that patience might be given them; that doubt and timid, weak-spirited
mourning over earthly misfortunes might be banished. A few women,
resembling shadows, knelt supporting themselves against the backs of
the chairs and dark wooden benches before them, and laying their
exhausted heads upon them. A few men stood sadly, leaning against the
columns upon which the wide arches rested. The stained-glass window
above the altar suddenly glowed with the rosy light of dawn; and from
it, on the floor, fell circles of blue, yellow, and other colours,
illuminating the dim church. The whole altar was lighted up; the smoke
from the censers hung a cloudy rainbow in the air. Andrii gazed from
his dark corner, not without surprise, at the wonders worked by the
light. At that moment the magnificent swell of the organ filled the
whole church. It grew deeper and deeper, expanded, swelled into heavy
bursts of thunder; and then all at once, turning into heavenly music,
its ringing tones floated high among the arches, like clear maiden
voices, and again descended into a deep roar and thunder, and then
ceased. The thunderous pulsations echoed long and tremulously among
the arches; and Andrii, with half-open mouth, admired the wondrous
Then he felt some one plucking the shirt of his caftan. "It is time,"
said the Tatar. They traversed the church unperceived, and emerged
upon the square in front. Dawn had long flushed the heavens; all
announced sunrise. The square was empty: in the middle of it still
stood wooden pillars, showing that, perhaps only a week before, there
had been a market here stocked with provisions. The streets, which
were unpaved, were simply a mass of dried mud. The square was
surrounded by small, one-storied stone or mud houses, in the walls of
which were visible wooden stakes and posts obliquely crossed by carved
wooden beams, as was the manner of building in those days. Specimens
of it can still be seen in some parts of Lithuania and Poland. They
were all covered with enormously high roofs, with a multitude of
windows and air-holes. On one side, close to the church, rose a
building quite detached from and taller than the rest, probably the
town-hall or some official structure. It was two stories high, and
above it, on two arches, rose a belvedere where a watchman stood; a
huge clock-face was let into the roof.
The square seemed deserted, but Andrii thought he heard a feeble
groan. Looking about him, he perceived, on the farther side, a group
of two or three men lying motionless upon the ground. He fixed his
eyes more intently on them, to see whether they were asleep or dead;
and, at the same moment, stumbled over something lying at his feet. It
was the dead body of a woman, a Jewess apparently. She appeared to be
young, though it was scarcely discernible in her distorted and
emaciated features. Upon her head was a red silk kerchief; two rows of
pearls or pearl beads adorned the beads of her head-dress, from
beneath which two long curls hung down upon her shrivelled neck, with
its tightly drawn veins. Beside her lay a child, grasping convulsively
at her shrunken breast, and squeezing it with involuntary ferocity at
finding no milk there. He neither wept nor screamed, and only his
gently rising and falling body would have led one to guess that he was
not dead, or at least on the point of breathing his last. They turned
into a street, and were suddenly stopped by a madman, who, catching
sight of Andrii's precious burden, sprang upon him like a tiger, and
clutched him, yelling, "Bread!" But his strength was not equal to his
madness. Andrii repulsed him and he fell to the ground. Moved with
pity, the young Cossack flung him a loaf, which he seized like a mad
dog, gnawing and biting it; but nevertheless he shortly expired in
horrible suffering, there in the street, from the effect of long
abstinence. The ghastly victims of hunger startled them at every step.
Many, apparently unable to endure their torments in their houses,
seemed to run into the streets to see whether some nourishing power
might not possibly descend from the air. At the gate of one house sat
an old woman, and it was impossible to say whether she was asleep or
dead, or only unconscious; at all events, she no longer saw or heard
anything, and sat immovable in one spot, her head drooping on her
breast. From the roof of another house hung a worn and wasted body in
a rope noose. The poor fellow could not endure the tortures of hunger
to the last, and had preferred to hasten his end by a voluntary death.
At the sight of such terrible proofs of famine, Andrii could not
refrain from saying to the Tatar, "Is there really nothing with which
they can prolong life? If a man is driven to extremities, he must feed
on what he has hitherto despised; he can sustain himself with
creatures which are forbidden by the law. Anything can be eaten under
such circumstances."
"They have eaten everything," said the Tatar, "all the animals. Not a
horse, nor a dog, nor even a mouse is to be found in the whole city.
We never had any store of provisions in the town: they were all
brought from the villages."
"But how can you, while dying such a fearful death, still dream of
defending the city?"
"Possibly the Waiwode might have surrendered; but yesterday morning
the commander of the troops at Buzhana sent a hawk into the city with
a note saying that it was not to be given up; that he was coming to
its rescue with his forces, and was only waiting for another leader,
that they might march together. And now they are expected every
moment. But we have reached the house."
Andrii had already noticed from a distance this house, unlike the
others, and built apparently by some Italian architect. It was
constructed of thin red bricks, and had two stories. The windows of
the lower story were sheltered under lofty, projecting granite
cornices. The upper story consisted entirely of small arches, forming
a gallery; between the arches were iron gratings enriched with
escutcheons; whilst upon the gables of the house more coats-of-arms
were displayed. The broad external staircase, of tinted bricks,
abutted on the square. At the foot of it sat guards, who with one hand
held their halberds upright, and with the other supported their
drooping heads, and in this attitude more resembled apparitions than
living beings. They neither slept nor dreamed, but seemed quite
insensible to everything; they even paid no attention to who went up
the stairs. At the head of the stairs, they found a richly-dressed
warrior, armed cap-a-pie, and holding a breviary in his hand. He
turned his dim eyes upon them; but the Tatar spoke a word to him, and
he dropped them again upon the open pages of his breviary. They
entered the first chamber, a large one, serving either as a
reception-room, or simply as an ante-room; it was filled with
soldiers, servants, secretaries, huntsmen, cup-bearers, and the other
servitors indispensable to the support of a Polish magnate's estate,
all seated along the walls. The reek of extinguished candles was
perceptible; and two were still burning in two huge candlesticks,
nearly as tall as a man, standing in the middle of the room, although
morning had long since peeped through the wide grated window. Andrii
wanted to go straight on to the large oaken door adorned with a
coat-of-arms and a profusion of carved ornaments, but the Tatar pulled
his sleeve and pointed to a small door in the side wall. Through this
they gained a corridor, and then a room, which he began to examine
attentively. The light which filtered through a crack in the shutter
fell upon several objects--a crimson curtain, a gilded cornice, and a
painting on the wall. Here the Tatar motioned to Andrii to wait, and
opened the door into another room from which flashed the light of a
fire. He heard a whispering, and a soft voice which made him quiver
all over. Through the open door he saw flit rapidly past a tall female
figure, with a long thick braid of hair falling over her uplifted
hands. The Tatar returned and told him to go in.
He could never understand how he entered and how the door was shut
behind him. Two candles burned in the room and a lamp glowed before
the images: beneath the lamp stood a tall table with steps to kneel
upon during prayer, after the Catholic fashion. But his eye did not
seek this. He turned to the other side and perceived a woman, who
appeared to have been frozen or turned to stone in the midst of some
quick movement. It seemed as though her whole body had sought to
spring towards him, and had suddenly paused. And he stood in like
manner amazed before her. Not thus had he pictured to himself that he
should find her. This was not the same being he had formerly known;
nothing about her resembled her former self; but she was twice as
beautiful, twice as enchanting, now than she had been then. Then there
had been something unfinished, incomplete, about her; now here was a
production to which the artist had given the finishing stroke of his
brush. That was a charming, giddy girl; this was a woman in the full
development of her charms. As she raised her eyes, they were full of
feeling, not of mere hints of feeling. The tears were not yet dry in
them, and framed them in a shining dew which penetrated the very soul.
Her bosom, neck, and arms were moulded in the proportions which mark
fully developed loveliness. Her hair, which had in former days waved
in light ringlets about her face, had become a heavy, luxuriant mass,
a part of which was caught up, while part fell in long, slender curls
upon her arms and breast. It seemed as though her every feature had
changed. In vain did he seek to discover in them a single one of those
which were engraved in his memory--a single one. Even her great pallor
did not lessen her wonderful beauty; on the contrary, it conferred
upon it an irresistible, inexpressible charm. Andrii felt in his heart
a noble timidity, and stood motionless before her. She, too, seemed
surprised at the appearance of the Cossack, as he stood before her in
all the beauty and might of his young manhood, and in the very
immovability of his limbs personified the utmost freedom of movement.
His eyes beamed with clear decision; his velvet brows curved in a bold
arch; his sunburnt cheeks glowed with all the ardour of youthful fire;
and his downy black moustache shone like silk.
"No, I have no power to thank you, noble sir," she said, her silvery
voice all in a tremble. "God alone can reward you, not I, a weak
woman." She dropped her eyes, her lids fell over them in beautiful,
snowy semicircles, guarded by lashes long as arrows; her wondrous face
bowed forward, and a delicate flush overspread it from within. Andrii
knew not what to say; he wanted to say everything. He had in his mind
to say it all ardently as it glowed in his heart--and could not. He
felt something confining his mouth; voice and words were lacking; he
felt that it was not for him, bred in the seminary and in the tumult
of a roaming life, to reply fitly to such language, and was angry with
his Cossack nature.
At that moment the Tatar entered the room. She had cut up the bread
which the warrior had brought into small pieces on a golden plate,
which she placed before her mistress. The lady glanced at her, at the
bread, at her again, and then turned her eyes towards Andrii. There
was a great deal in those eyes. That gentle glance, expressive of her
weakness and her inability to give words to the feeling which
overpowered her, was far more comprehensible to Andrii than any words.
His heart suddenly grew light within him, all seemed made smooth. The
mental emotions and the feelings which up to that moment he had
restrained with a heavy curb, as it were, now felt themselves
released, at liberty, and anxious to pour themselves out in a
resistless torrent of words. Suddenly the lady turned to the Tatar,
and said anxiously, "But my mother? you took her some?"
"She is asleep."
"And my father?"
"I carried him some; he said that he would come to thank the young
lord in person."
She took the bread and raised it to her mouth. With inexpressible
delight Andrii watched her break it with her shining fingers and eat
it; but all at once he recalled the man mad with hunger, who had
expired before his eyes on swallowing a morsel of bread. He turned
pale and, seizing her hand, cried, "Enough! eat no more! you have not
eaten for so long that too much bread will be poison to you now." And
she at once dropped her hand, laid her bread upon the plate, and gazed
into his eyes like a submissive child. And if any words could
express-- But neither chisel, nor brush, nor mighty speech is capable
of expressing what is sometimes seen in glances of maidens, nor the
tender feeling which takes possession of him who receives such maiden
"My queen!" exclaimed Andrii, his heart and soul filled with emotion,
"what do you need? what do you wish? command me! Impose on me the most
impossible task in all the world: I fly to fulfil it! Tell me to do
that which it is beyond the power of man to do: I will fulfil it if I
destroy myself. I will ruin myself. And I swear by the holy cross that
ruin for your sake is as sweet--but no, it is impossible to say how
sweet! I have three farms; half my father's droves of horses are mine;
all that my mother brought my father, and which she still conceals
from him--all this is mine! Not one of the Cossacks owns such weapons
as I; for the pommel of my sword alone they would give their best
drove of horses and three thousand sheep. And I renounce all this, I
discard it, I throw it aside, I will burn and drown it, if you will
but say the word, or even move your delicate black brows! But I know
that I am talking madly and wide of the mark; that all this is not
fitting here; that it is not for me, who have passed my life in the
seminary and among the Zaporozhtzi, to speak as they speak where
kings, princes, and all the best of noble knighthood have been. I can
see that you are a different being from the rest of us, and far above
all other boyars' wives and maiden daughters."
With growing amazement the maiden listened, losing no single word, to
the frank, sincere language in which, as in a mirror, the young,
strong spirit reflected itself. Each simple word of this speech,
uttered in a voice which penetrated straight to the depths of her
heart, was clothed in power. She advanced her beautiful face, pushed
back her troublesome hair, opened her mouth, and gazed long, with
parted lips. Then she tried to say something and suddenly stopped,
remembering that the warrior was known by a different name; that his
father, brothers, country, lay beyond, grim avengers; that the
Zaporozhtzi besieging the city were terrible, and that the cruel death
awaited all who were within its walls, and her eyes suddenly filled
with tears. She seized a silk embroidered handkerchief and threw it
over her face. In a moment it was all wet; and she sat for some time
with her beautiful head thrown back, and her snowy teeth set on her
lovely under-lip, as though she suddenly felt the sting of a poisonous
serpent, without removing the handkerchief from her face, lest he
should see her shaken with grief.
"Speak but one word to me," said Andrii, and he took her satin-skinned
hand. A sparkling fire coursed through his veins at the touch, and he
pressed the hand lying motionless in his.
But she still kept silence, never taking the kerchief from her face,
and remaining motionless.
"Why are you so sad? Tell me, why are you so sad?"
She cast away the handkerchief, pushed aside the long hair which fell
over her eyes, and poured out her heart in sad speech, in a quiet
voice, like the breeze which, rising on a beautiful evening, blows
through the thick growth of reeds beside the stream. They rustle,
murmur, and give forth delicately mournful sounds, and the traveller,
pausing in inexplicable sadness, hears them, and heeds not the fading
light, nor the gay songs of the peasants which float in the air as
they return from their labours in meadow and stubble-field, nor the
distant rumble of the passing waggon.
"Am not I worthy of eternal pity? Is not the mother that bore me
unhappy? Is it not a bitter lot which has befallen me? Art not thou a
cruel executioner, fate? Thou has brought all to my feet--the highest
nobles in the land, the richest gentlemen, counts, foreign barons, all
the flower of our knighthood. All loved me, and any one of them would
have counted my love the greatest boon. I had but to beckon, and the
best of them, the handsomest, the first in beauty and birth would have
become my husband. And to none of them didst thou incline my heart, O
bitter fate; but thou didst turn it against the noblest heroes of our
land, and towards a stranger, towards our enemy. O most holy mother of
God! for what sin dost thou so pitilessly, mercilessly, persecute me?
In abundance and superfluity of luxury my days were passed, the
richest dishes and the sweetest wine were my food. And to what end was
it all? What was it all for? In order that I might at last die a death
more cruel than that of the meanest beggar in the kingdom? And it was
not enough that I should be condemned to so horrible a fate; not
enough that before my own end I should behold my father and mother
perish in intolerable torment, when I would have willingly given my
own life twenty times over to save them; all this was not enough, but
before my own death I must hear words of love such as I had never
before dreamed of. It was necessary that he should break my heart with
his words; that my bitter lot should be rendered still more bitter;
that my young life should be made yet more sad; that my death should
seem even more terrible; and that, dying, I should reproach thee still
more, O cruel fate! and thee--forgive my sin--O holy mother of God!"
As she ceased in despair, her feelings were plainly expressed in her
face. Every feature spoke of gnawing sorrow and, from the sadly bowed
brow and downcast eyes to the tears trickling down and drying on her
softly burning cheeks, seemed to say, "There is no happiness in this
"Such a thing was never heard of since the world began. It cannot be,"
said Andrii, "that the best and most beautiful of women should suffer
so bitter a fate, when she was born that all the best there is in the
world should bow before her as before a saint. No, you will not die,
you shall not die! I swear by my birth and by all there is dear to me
in the world that you shall not die. But if it must be so; if nothing,
neither strength, nor prayer, nor heroism, will avail to avert this
cruel fate--then we will die together, and I will die first. I will
die before you, at your beauteous knees, and even in death they shall
not divide us."
"Deceive not yourself and me, noble sir," she said, gently shaking her
beautiful head; "I know, and to my great sorrow I know but too well,
that it is impossible for you to love me. I know what your duty is,
and your faith. Your father calls you, your comrades, your country,
and we are your enemies."
"And what are my father, my comrades, my country to me?" said Andrii,
with a quick movement of his head, and straightening up his figure
like a poplar beside the river. "Be that as it may, I have no one, no
one!" he repeated, with that movement of the hand with which the
Cossack expresses his determination to do some unheard-of deed,
impossible to any other man. "Who says that the Ukraine is my country?
Who gave it to me for my country? Our country is the one our soul
longs for, the one which is dearest of all to us. My country is--you!
That is my native land, and I bear that country in my heart. I will
bear it there all my life, and I will see whether any of the Cossacks
can tear it thence. And I will give everything, barter everything, I
will destroy myself, for that country!"
Astounded, she gazed in his eyes for a space, like a beautiful statue,
and then suddenly burst out sobbing; and with the wonderful feminine
impetuosity which only grand-souled, uncalculating women, created for
fine impulses of the heart, are capable of, threw herself upon his
neck, encircling it with her wondrous snowy arms, and wept. At that
moment indistinct shouts rang through the street, accompanied by the
sound of trumpets and kettledrums; but he heard them not. He was only
conscious of the beauteous mouth bathing him with its warm, sweet
breath, of the tears streaming down his face, and of her long, unbound
perfumed hair, veiling him completely in its dark and shining silk.
At that moment the Tatar ran in with a cry of joy. "Saved, saved!" she
cried, beside herself. "Our troops have entered the city. They have
brought corn, millet, flour, and Zaporozhtzi in chains!" But no one
heard that "our troops" had arrived in the city, or what they had
brought with them, or how they had bound the Zaporozhtzi. Filled with
feelings untasted as yet upon earth, Andrii kissed the sweet mouth
which pressed his cheek, and the sweet mouth did not remain
unresponsive. In this union of kisses they experienced that which it
is given to a man to feel but once on earth.
And the Cossack was ruined. He was lost to Cossack chivalry. Never
again will Zaporozhe, nor his father's house, nor the Church of God,
behold him. The Ukraine will never more see the bravest of the
children who have undertaken to defend her. Old Taras may tear the
grey hair from his scalp-lock, and curse the day and hour in which
such a son was born to dishonour him.
Noise and movement were rife in the Zaporozhian camp. At first, no one
could account for the relieving army having made its way into the
city; but it afterwards appeared that the Pereyaslavsky kuren,
encamped before the wide gate of the town, had been dead drunk. It was
no wonder that half had been killed, and the other half bound, before
they knew what it was all about. Meantime the neighbouring kurens,
aroused by the tumult, succeeded in grasping their weapons; but the
relieving force had already passed through the gate, and its rear
ranks fired upon the sleepy and only half-sober Zaporozhtzi who were
pressing in disorder upon them, and kept them back.
The Koschevoi ordered a general assembly; and when all stood in a ring
and had removed their caps and became quiet, he said: "See what
happened last night, brother gentles! See what drunkenness has led to!
See what shame the enemy has put upon us! It is evident that, if your
allowances are kindly doubled, then you are ready to stretch out at
full length, and the enemies of Christ can not only take your very
trousers off you, but sneeze in your faces without your hearing them!"
The Cossacks all stood with drooping heads, knowing that they were
guilty; only Kukubenko, the hetman of the Nezamisky kuren, answered
back. "Stop, father!" said he; "although it is not lawful to make a
retort when the Koschevoi speaks before the whole army, yet it is
necessary to say that that was not the state of the case. You have not
been quite just in your reprimand. The Cossacks would have been
guilty, and deserving of death, had they got drunk on the march, or
when engaged on heavy toilsome labour during war; but we have been
sitting here unoccupied, loitering in vain before the city. There was
no fast or other Christian restraint; how then could it be otherwise
than that a man should get drunk in idleness? There is no sin in that.
But we had better show them what it is to attack innocent people. They
first beat us well, and now we will beat them so that not half a dozen
of them will ever see home again."
The speech of the hetman of the kuren pleased the Cossacks. They
raised their drooping heads upright and many nodded approvingly,
muttering, "Kukubenko has spoken well!" And Taras Bulba, who stood not
far from the Koschevoi, said: "How now, Koschevoi? Kukubenko has
spoken truth. What have you to say to this?"
"What have I to say? I say, Blessed be the father of such a son! It
does not need much wisdom to utter words of reproof; but much wisdom
is needed to find such words as do not embitter a man's misfortune,
but encourage him, restore to him his spirit, put spurs to the horse
of his soul, refreshed by water. I meant myself to speak words of
comfort to you, but Kukubenko has forestalled me."
"The Koschevoi has also spoken well!" rang through the ranks of the
Zaporozhtzi. "His words are good," repeated others. And even the
greyheads, who stood there like dark blue doves, nodded their heads
and, twitching their grey moustaches, muttered softly, "That was well
"Listen now, gentles," continued the Koschevoi. "To take the city, by
scaling its walls, or undermining them as the foreign engineers do, is
not proper, not Cossack fashion. But, judging from appearances, the
enemy entered the city without many provisions; they had not many
waggons with them. The people in the city are hungry; they will all
eat heartily, and the horses will soon devour the hay. I don't know
whether their saints will fling them down anything from heaven with
hayforks; God only knows that though there are a great many Catholic
priests among them. By one means or another the people will seek to
leave the city. Divide yourselves, therefore, into three divisions,
and take up your posts before the three gates; five kurens before the
principal gate, and three kurens before each of the others. Let the
Dadikivsky and Korsunsky kurens go into ambush and Taras and his men
into ambush too. The Titarevsky and Timoschevsky kurens are to guard
the baggage train on the right flank, the Scherbinovsky and
Steblikivsky on the left, and to select from their ranks the most
daring young men to face the foe. The Lyakhs are of a restless nature
and cannot endure a siege, and perhaps this very day they will sally
forth from the gates. Let each hetman inspect his kuren; those whose
ranks are not full are to be recruited from the remains of the
Pereyaslavsky kuren. Inspect them all anew. Give a loaf and a beaker
to each Cossack to strengthen him. But surely every one must be
satiated from last night; for all stuffed themselves so that, to tell
the truth, I am only surprised that no one burst in the night. And
here is one further command: if any Jew spirit-seller sells a Cossack
so much as a single jug of brandy, I will nail pig's ears to his very
forehead, the dog, and hang him up by his feet. To work, brothers, to
Thus did the Koschevoi give his orders. All bowed to their girdles,
and without putting on their caps set out for their waggons and camps.
It was only when they had gone some distance that they covered
themselves. All began to equip themselves: they tested their swords,
poured powder from the sacks into their powder-flasks, drew up and
arranged the waggons, and looked to their horses.
On his way to his band, Taras wondered what had become of Andrii;
could he have been captured and found while asleep with the others?
But no, Andrii was not the man to go alive into captivity. Yet he was
not to be seen among the slaughtered Cossacks. Taras pondered deeply
and went past his men without hearing that some one had for some time
been calling him by name. "Who wants me?" he said, finally arousing
himself from his reflections. Before him stood the Jew, Yankel. "Lord
colonel! lord colonel!" said the Jew in a hasty and broken voice, as
though desirous of revealing something not utterly useless, "I have
been in the city, lord colonel!"
Taras looked at the Jew, and wondered how he had succeeded in getting
into the city. "What enemy took you there?"
"I will tell you at once," said Yankel. "As soon as I heard the uproar
this morning, when the Cossacks began to fire, I seized my caftan and,
without stopping to put it on, ran at the top of my speed, thrusting
my arms in on the way, because I wanted to know as soon as possible
the cause of the noise and why the Cossacks were firing at dawn. I ran
to the very gate of the city, at the moment when the last of the army
was passing through. I looked, and in command of the rearguard was
Cornet Galyandovitch. He is a man well known to me; he has owed me a
hundred ducats these three years past. I ran after him, as though to
claim the debt of him, and so entered the city with them."
"You entered the city, and wanted him to settle the debt!" said Bulba;
"and he did not order you to be hung like a dog on the spot?"
"By heavens, he did want to hang me," replied the Jew; "his servants
had already seized me and thrown a rope about my neck. But I besought
the noble lord, and said that I would wait for the money as long as
his lordship liked, and promised to lend him more if he would only
help me to collect my debts from the other nobles; for I can tell my
lord that the noble cornet had not a ducat in his pocket, although he
has farms and estates and four castles and steppe-land that extends
clear to Schklof; but he has not a penny, any more than a Cossack. If
the Breslau Jews had not equipped him, he would never have gone on
this campaign. That was the reason he did not go to the Diet."
"What did you do in the city? Did you see any of our people?"
"Certainly, there are many of them there: Itzok, Rachum, Samuel,
Khaivalkh, Evrei the pawnbroker--"
"May they die, the dogs!" shouted Taras in a rage. "Why do you name
your Jewish tribe to me? I ask you about our Zaporozhtzi."
"I saw none of our Zaporozhtzi; I saw only Lord Andrii."
"You saw Andrii!" shouted Bulba. "What is he doing? Where did you see
him? In a dungeon? in a pit? dishonoured? bound?"
"Who would dare to bind Lord Andrii? now he is so grand a knight. I
hardly recognised him. Gold on his shoulders and his belt, gold
everywhere about him; as the sun shines in spring, when every bird
twitters and sings in the orchard, so he shines, all gold. And his
horse, which the Waiwode himself gave him, is the very best; that
horse alone is worth two hundred ducats."
Bulba was petrified. "Why has he put on foreign garments?"
"He put them on because they were finer. And he rides about, and the
others ride about, and he teaches them, and they teach him; like the
very grandest Polish noble."
"Who forced him to do this?"
"I should not say that he had been forced. Does not my lord know that
he went over to them of his own free will?"
"Who went over?"
"Lord Andrii."
"Went where?"
"Went over to their side; he is now a thorough foreigner."
"You lie, you hog's ear!"
"How is it possible that I should lie? Am I a fool, that I should lie?
Would I lie at the risk of my head? Do not I know that Jews are hung
like dogs if they lie to nobles?"
"Then it means, according to you, he has betrayed his native land and
his faith?"
"I do not say that he has betrayed anything; I merely said that he had
gone over to the other side."
"You lie, you imp of a Jew! Such a deed was never known in a Christian
land. You are making a mistake, dog!"
"May the grass grow upon the threshold of my house if I am mistaken!
May every one spit upon the grave of my father, my mother, my father's
father, and my mother's father, if I am mistaken! If my lord wished I
can even tell him why he went over to them."
"The Waiwode has a beautiful daughter. Holy Father! what a beauty!"
Here the Jew tried his utmost to express beauty by extending his
hands, screwing up his eyes, and twisting his mouth to one side as
though tasting something on trial.
"Well, what of that?"
"He did it all for her, he went there for her sake. When a man is in
love, then all things are the same to him; like the sole of a shoe
which you can bend in any direction if you soak it in water."
Bulba reflected deeply. He remembered the power of weak woman--how she
had ruined many a strong man, and that this was the weak point in
Andrii's nature--and stood for some time in one spot, as though rooted
there. "Listen, my lord, I will tell my lord all," said the Jew. "As
soon as I heard the uproar, and saw them going through the city gate,
I seized a string of pearls, in case of any emergency. For there are
beauties and noble-women there; 'and if there are beauties and
noble-women,' I said to myself, 'they will buy pearls, even if they
have nothing to eat.' And, as soon as ever the cornet's servants had
set me at liberty, I hastened to the Waiwode's residence to sell my
pearls. I asked all manner of questions of the lady's Tatar maid; the
wedding is to take place immediately, as soon as they have driven off
the Zaporozhtzi. Lord Andrii has promised to drive off the
"And you did not kill him on the spot, you devil's brat?" shouted
"Why should I kill him? He went over of his own free will. What is his
crime? He liked it better there, so he went there."
"And you saw him face to face?"
"Face to face, by heavens! such a magnificent warrior! more splendid
than all the rest. God bless him, he knew me, and when I approached
him he said at once--"
"What did he say?"
"He said-- First he beckoned me with his finger, and then he said,
'Yankel!' Lord Andrii said, 'Yankel, tell my father, tell my brother,
tell all the Cossacks, all the Zaporozhtzi, everybody, that my father
is no longer my father, nor my brother my brother, nor my comrades my
comrades; and that I will fight them all, all.'"
"You lie, imp of a Jew!" shouted Taras, beside himself. "You lie, dog!
I will kill you, Satan! Get away from here! if not, death awaits you!"
So saying, Taras drew his sword.
The terrified Jew set off instantly, at the full speed of his thin,
shrunken legs. He ran for a long time, without looking back, through
the Cossack camp, and then far out on the deserted plain, although
Taras did not chase him at all, reasoning that it was foolish to thus
vent his rage on the first person who presented himself.
Then he recollected that he had seen Andrii on the previous night
traversing the camp with some woman, and he bowed his grey head. Still
he would not believe that so disgraceful a thing could have happened,
and that his own son had betrayed his faith and soul.
Finally he placed his men in ambush in a wood--the only one which had
not been burned by the Cossacks--whilst the Zaporozhians, foot and
horse, set out for the three gates by three different roads. One after
another the kurens turned out: Oumansky, Popovichesky, Kanevsky,
Steblikovsky, Nezamaikovsky, Gurgazif, Titarevsky, Tomischevsky. The
Pereyaslavsky kuren alone was wanting. Its Cossacks had smoked and
drank to their destruction. Some awoke to find themselves bound in the
enemy's hands; others never woke at all but passed in their sleep into
the damp earth; and the hetman Khlib himself, minus his trousers and
accoutrements, found himself in the camp of the Lyakhs.
The uproar among the Zaporozhtzi was heard in the city. All the
besieged hastened to the ramparts, and a lively scene was presented to
the Cossacks. The handsome Polish heroes thronged on the wall. The
brazen helmets of some shone like the sun, and were adorned with
feathers white as swans. Others wore pink and blue caps, drooping over
one ear, and caftans with the sleeves thrown back, embroidered with
gold. Their weapons were richly mounted and very costly, as were their
equipments. In the front rank the Budzhakovsky colonel stood proudly
in his red cap ornamented with gold. He was a tall, stout man, and his
rich and ample caftan hardly covered him. Near the side gate stood
another colonel. He was a dried-up little man, but his small, piercing
eyes gleamed sharply from under his thick and shaggy brows, and as he
turned quickly on all sides, motioning boldly with his thin, withered
hand, and giving out his orders, it was evident that, in spite of his
little body, he understood military science thoroughly. Not far from
him stood a very tall cornet, with thick moustaches and a
highly-coloured complexion--a noble fond of strong mead and hearty
revelry. Behind them were many nobles who had equipped themselves,
some with their own ducats, some from the royal treasury, some with
money obtained from the Jews, by pawning everything they found in
their ancestral castles. Many too were parasites, whom the senators
took with them to dinners for show, and who stole silver cups from the
table and the sideboard, and when the day's display was over mounted
some noble's coach-box and drove his horses. There were folk of all
kinds there. Sometimes they had not enough to drink, but all were
equipped for war.
The Cossack ranks stood quietly before the walls. There was no gold
about them, save where it shone on the hilt of a sword or the
mountings of a gun. The Zaporozhtzi were not given to decking
themselves out gaily for battle: their coats-of-mail and garments were
plain, and their black-bordered red-crowned caps showed darkly in the
Two men--Okhrim Nasch and Mikiga Golokopuitenko--advanced from the
Zaporozhian ranks. One was quite young, the other older; both fierce
in words, and not bad specimens of Cossacks in action. They were
followed by Demid Popovitch, a strongly built Cossack who had been
hanging about the Setch for a long time, after having been in
Adrianople and undergoing a great deal in the course of his life. He
had been burned, and had escaped to the Setch with blackened head and
singed moustaches. But Popovitch recovered, let his hair grow, raised
moustaches thick and black as pitch, and was a stout fellow, according
to his own biting speech.
"Red jackets on all the army, but I should like to know what sort of
men are under them," he cried.
"I will show you," shouted the stout colonel from above. "I will
capture the whole of you. Surrender your guns and horses, slaves. Did
you see how I caught your men?--Bring out a Zaporozhetz on the wall
for them to see."
And they let out a Zaporozhetz bound with stout cords.
Before them stood Khlib, the hetman of the Pereyaslavsky kuren,
without his trousers or accoutrements, just as they had captured him
in his drunken sleep. He bowed his head in shame before the Cossacks
at his nakedness, and at having been thus taken like a dog, while
asleep. His hair had turned grey in one night.
"Grieve not, Khlib: we will rescue you," shouted the Cossacks from
"Grieve not, friend," cried the hetman Borodaty. "It is not your fault
that they caught you naked: that misfortune might happen to any man.
But it is a disgrace to them that they should have exposed you to
dishonour, and not covered your nakedness decently."
"You seem to be a brave army when you have people who are asleep to
fight," remarked Golokopuitenko, glancing at the ramparts.
"Wait a bit, we'll singe your top-knots for you!" was the reply.
"I should like to see them singe our scalp locks!" said Popovitch,
prancing about before them on his horse; and then, glancing at his
comrades, he added, "Well, perhaps the Lyakhs speak the truth: if that
fat-bellied fellow leads them, they will all find a good shelter."
"Why do you think they will find a good shelter?" asked the Cossacks,
knowing that Popovitch was probably preparing some repartee.
"Because the whole army will hide behind him; and the devil himself
couldn't help you to reach any one with your spear through that belly
of his!"
The Cossacks laughed, some of them shaking their heads and saying,
"What a fellow Popovitch is for a joke! but now--" But the Cossacks
had not time to explain what they meant by that "now."
"Fall back, fall back quickly from the wall!" shouted the Koschevoi,
seeing that the Lyakhs could not endure these biting words, and that
the colonel was waving his hand.
The Cossacks had hardly retreated from the wall before the grape-shot
rained down. On the ramparts all was excitement, and the grey-haired
Waiwode himself appeared on horseback. The gates opened and the
garrison sallied forth. In the van came hussars in orderly ranks,
behind them the horsemen in armour, and then the heroes in brazen
helmets; after whom rode singly the highest nobility, each man
accoutred as he pleased. These haughty nobles would not mingle in the
ranks with others, and such of them as had no commands rode apart with
their own immediate following. Next came some more companies, and
after these the cornet, then more files of men, and the stout colonel;
and in the rear of the whole force the little colonel.
"Keep them from forming in line!" shouted the Koschevoi; "let all the
kurens attack them at once! Block the other gate! Titarevsky kuren,
fall on one flank! Dyadovsky kuren, charge on the other! Attack them
in the rear, Kukubenko and Palivod! Check them, break them!" The
Cossacks attacked on all sides, throwing the Lyakhs into confusion and
getting confused themselves. They did not even give the foe time to
fire, it came to swords and spears at once. All fought hand to hand,
and each man had an opportunity to distinguish himself.
Demid Popovitch speared three soldiers, and struck two of the highest
nobles from their saddles, saying, "Good horses! I have long wanted
just such horses." And he drove the horses far afield, shouting to the
Cossacks standing about to catch them. Then he rushed again into the
fray, fell upon the dismounted nobles, slew one, and throwing his
lasso round the neck of the other, tied him to his saddle and dragged
him over the plain, after having taken from him his sword from its
rich hilt and removed from his girdle a whole bag of ducats.
Kobita, a good Cossack, though still very young, attacked one of the
bravest men in the Polish army, and they fought long together. They
grappled, and the Cossack mastering his foe, and throwing him down,
stabbed him in the breast with his sharp Turkish knife. But he did not
look out for himself, and a bullet struck him on the temple. The man
who struck him down was the most distinguished of the nobles, the
handsomest scion of an ancient and princely race. Like a stately
poplar, he bestrode his dun-coloured steed, and many heroic deeds did
he perform. He cut two Cossacks in twain. Fedor Korzh, the brave
Cossack, he overthrew together with his horse, shooting the steed and
picking off the rider with his spear. Many heads and hands did he hew
off; and slew Kobita by sending a bullet through his temple.
"There's a man I should like to measure strength with!" shouted
Kukubenko, the hetman of the Nezamaikovsky kuren. Spurring his horse,
he dashed straight at the Pole's back, shouting loudly, so that all
who stood near shuddered at the unearthly yell. The boyard tried to
wheel his horse suddenly and face him, but his horse would not obey
him; scared by the terrible cry, it bounded aside, and the Lyakh
received Kukubenko's fire. The ball struck him in the shoulder-blade,
and he rolled from his saddle. Even then he did not surrender and
strove to deal his enemy a blow, but his hand was weak. Kukubenko,
taking his heavy sword in both hands, thrust it through his mouth. The
sword, breaking out two teeth, cut the tongue in twain, pierced the
windpipe, and penetrated deep into the earth, nailing him to the
ground. His noble blood, red as viburnum berries beside the river,
welled forth in a stream staining his yellow, gold-embroidered caftan.
But Kukubenko had already left him, and was forcing his way, with his
Nezamaikovsky kuren, towards another group.
"He has left untouched rich plunder," said Borodaty, hetman of the
Oumansky kuren, leaving his men and going to the place where the
nobleman killed by Kukubenko lay. "I have killed seven nobles with my
own hand, but such spoil I never beheld on any one." Prompted by
greed, Borodaty bent down to strip off the rich armour, and had
already secured the Turkish knife set with precious stones, and taken
from the foe's belt a purse of ducats, and from his breast a silver
case containing a maiden's curl, cherished tenderly as a love-token.
But he heeded not how the red-faced cornet, whom he had already once
hurled from the saddle and given a good blow as a remembrance, flew
upon him from behind. The cornet swung his arm with all his might, and
brought his sword down upon Borodaty's bent neck. Greed led to no
good: the head rolled off, and the body fell headless, sprinkling the
earth with blood far and wide; whilst the Cossack soul ascended,
indignant and surprised at having so soon quitted so stout a frame.
The cornet had not succeeded in seizing the hetman's head by its
scalp-lock, and fastening it to his saddle, before an avenger had
As a hawk floating in the sky, sweeping in great circles with his
mighty wings, suddenly remains poised in air, in one spot, and thence
darts down like an arrow upon the shrieking quail, so Taras's son
Ostap darted suddenly upon the cornet and flung a rope about his neck
with one cast. The cornet's red face became a still deeper purple as
the cruel noose compressed his throat, and he tried to use his pistol;
but his convulsively quivering hand could not aim straight, and the
bullet flew wild across the plain. Ostap immediately unfastened a
silken cord which the cornet carried at his saddle bow to bind
prisoners, and having with it bound him hand and foot, attached the
cord to his saddle and dragged him across the field, calling on all
the Cossacks of the Oumansky kuren to come and render the last honours
to their hetman.
When the Oumantzi heard that the hetman of their kuren, Borodaty, was
no longer among the living, they deserted the field of battle, rushed
to secure his body, and consulted at once as to whom they should
select as their leader. At length they said, "But why consult? It is
impossible to find a better leader than Bulba's son, Ostap; he is
younger than all the rest of us, it is true; but his judgment is equal
to that of the eldest."
Ostap, taking off his cap, thanked his comrades for the honour, and
did not decline it on the ground of youth or inexperience, knowing
that war time is no fitting season for that; but instantly ordered
them straight to the fray, and soon showed them that not in vain had
they chosen him as hetman. The Lyakhs felt that the matter was growing
too hot for them, and retreated across the plain in order to form
again at its other end. But the little colonel signalled to the
reserve of four hundred, stationed at the gate, and these rained shot
upon the Cossacks. To little purpose, however, their shot only taking
effect on the Cossack oxen, which were gazing wildly upon the battle.
The frightened oxen, bellowing with fear, dashed into the camp,
breaking the line of waggons and trampling on many. But Taras,
emerging from ambush at the moment with his troops, headed off the
infuriated cattle, which, startled by his yell, swooped down upon the
Polish troops, overthrew the cavalry, and crushed and dispersed them
"Thank you, oxen!" cried the Zaporozhtzi; "you served us on the march,
and now you serve us in war." And they attacked the foe with fresh
vigour killing many of the enemy. Several distinguished
themselves--Metelitza and Schilo, both of the Pisarenki, Vovtuzenko,
and many others. The Lyakhs seeing that matters were going badly for
them flung away their banners and shouted for the city gates to be
opened. With a screeching sound the iron-bound gates swung open and
received the weary and dust-covered riders, flocking like sheep into a
fold. Many of the Zaporozhtzi would have pursued them, but Ostap
stopped his Oumantzi, saying, "Farther, farther from the walls,
brother gentles! it is not well to approach them too closely." He
spoke truly; for from the ramparts the foe rained and poured down
everything which came to hand, and many were struck. At that moment
the Koschevoi came up and congratulated him, saying, "Here is the new
hetman leading the army like an old one!" Old Bulba glanced round to
see the new hetman, and beheld Ostap sitting on his horse at the head
of the Oumantzi, his cap on one side and the hetman's staff in his
hand. "Who ever saw the like!" he exclaimed; and the old man rejoiced,
and began to thank all the Oumantzi for the honour they had conferred
upon his son.
The Cossacks retired, preparing to go into camp; but the Lyakhs showed
themselves again on the city ramparts with tattered mantles. Many rich
caftans were spotted with blood, and dust covered the brazen helmets.
"Have you bound us?" cried the Zaporozhtzi to them from below.
"We will do so!" shouted the big colonel from above, showing them a
rope. The weary, dust-covered warriors ceased not to threaten, nor the
most zealous on both sides to exchange fierce remarks.
At length all dispersed. Some, weary with battle, stretched themselves
out to rest; others sprinkled their wounds with earth, and bound them
with kerchiefs and rich stuffs captured from the enemy. Others, who
were fresher, began to inspect the corpses and to pay them the last
honours. They dug graves with swords and spears, brought earth in
their caps and the skirts of their garments, laid the Cossacks' bodies
out decently, and covered them up in order that the ravens and eagles
might not claw out their eyes. But binding the bodies of the Lyakhs,
as they came to hand, to the tails of horses, they let these loose on
the plain, pursuing them and beating them for some time. The
infuriated horses flew over hill and hollow, through ditch and brook,
dragging the bodies of the Poles, all covered with blood and dust,
along the ground.
All the kurens sat down in circles in the evening, and talked for a
long time of their deeds, and of the achievements which had fallen to
the share of each, for repetition by strangers and posterity. It was
long before they lay down to sleep; and longer still before old Taras,
meditating what it might signify that Andrii was not among the foe,
lay down. Had the Judas been ashamed to come forth against his own
countrymen? or had the Jew been deceiving him, and had he simply gone
into the city against his will? But then he recollected that there
were no bounds to a woman's influence upon Andrii's heart; he felt
ashamed, and swore a mighty oath to himself against the fair Pole who
had bewitched his son. And he would have kept his oath. He would not
have looked at her beauty; he would have dragged her forth by her
thick and splendid hair; he would have trailed her after him over all
the plain, among all the Cossacks. Her beautiful shoulders and bosom,
white as fresh-fallen snow upon the mountain-tops, would have been
crushed to earth and covered with blood and dust. Her lovely body
would have been torn to pieces. But Taras, who did not foresee what
God prepares for man on the morrow, began to grow drowsy, and finally
fell asleep. The Cossacks still talked among themselves; and the sober
sentinel stood all night long beside the fire without blinking and
keeping a good look out on all sides.
The sun had not ascended midway in the heavens when all the army
assembled in a group. News had come from the Setch that during the
Cossacks' absence the Tatars had plundered it completely, unearthed
the treasures which were kept concealed in the ground, killed or
carried into captivity all who had remained behind, and straightway
set out, with all the flocks and droves of horses they had collected,
for Perekop. One Cossack only, Maksin Galodukha, had broken loose from
the Tatars' hands, stabbed the Mirza, seized his bag of sequins, and
on a Tatar horse, in Tatar garments, had fled from his pursuers for
two nights and a day and a half, ridden his horse to death, obtained
another, killed that one too, and arrived at the Zaporozhian camp upon
a third, having learned upon the road that the Zaporozhtzi were before
Dubno. He could only manage to tell them that this misfortune had
taken place; but as to how it happened--whether the remaining
Zaporozhtzi had been carousing after Cossack fashion, and had been
carried drunk into captivity, and how the Tatars were aware of the
spot where the treasures of the army were concealed--he was too
exhausted to say. Extremely fatigued, his body swollen, and his face
scorched and weatherbeaten, he had fallen down, and a deep sleep had
overpowered him.
In such cases it was customary for the Cossacks to pursue the robbers
at once, endeavouring to overtake them on the road; for, let the
prisoners once be got to the bazaars of Asia Minor, Smyrna, or the
island of Crete, and God knows in what places the tufted heads of
Zaporozhtzi might not be seen. This was the occasion of the Cossacks'
assembling. They all stood to a man with their caps on; for they had
not met to listen to the commands of their hetman, but to take counsel
together as equals among equals. "Let the old men first advise," was
shouted to the crowd. "Let the Koschevoi give his opinion," cried
The Koschevoi, taking off his cap and speaking not as commander, but
as a comrade among comrades, thanked all the Cossacks for the honour,
and said, "There are among us many experienced men and much wisdom;
but since you have thought me worthy, my counsel is not to lose time
in pursuing the Tatars, for you know yourselves what the Tatar is. He
will not pause with his stolen booty to await our coming, but will
vanish in a twinkling, so that you can find no trace of him. Therefore
my advice is to go. We have had good sport here. The Lyakhs now know
what Cossacks are. We have avenged our faith to the extent of our
ability; there is not much to satisfy greed in the famished city, and
so my advice is to go."
"To go," rang heavily through the Zaporozhian kurens. But such words
did not suit Taras Bulba at all; and he brought his frowning,
iron-grey brows still lower down over his eyes, brows like bushes
growing on dark mountain heights, whose crowns are suddenly covered
with sharp northern frost.
"No, Koschevoi, your counsel is not good," said he. "You cannot say
that. You have evidently forgotten that those of our men captured by
the Lyakhs will remain prisoners. You evidently wish that we should
not heed the first holy law of comradeship; that we should leave our
brethren to be flayed alive, or carried about through the towns and
villages after their Cossack bodies have been quartered, as was done
with the hetman and the bravest Russian warriors in the Ukraine. Have
the enemy not desecrated the holy things sufficiently without that?
What are we? I ask you all what sort of a Cossack is he who would
desert his comrade in misfortune, and let him perish like a dog in a
foreign land? If it has come to such a pass that no one has any
confidence in Cossack honour, permitting men to spit upon his grey
moustache, and upbraid him with offensive words, then let no one blame
me; I will remain here alone."
All the Zaporozhtzi who were there wavered.
"And have you forgotten, brave comrades," said the Koschevoi, "that
the Tatars also have comrades of ours in their hands; that if we do
not rescue them now their lives will be sacrificed in eternal
imprisonment among the infidels, which is worse than the most cruel
death? Have you forgotten that they now hold all our treasure, won by
Christian blood?"
The Cossacks reflected, not knowing what to say. None of them wished
to deserve ill repute. Then there stepped out in front of them the
oldest in years of all the Zaporozhian army, Kasyan Bovdug. He was
respected by all the Cossacks. Twice had he been chosen Koschevoi, and
had also been a stout warrior; but he had long been old, and had
ceased to go upon raids. Neither did the old man like to give advice
to any one; but loved to lie upon his side in the circle of Cossacks,
listening to tales of every occurrence on the Cossack marches. He
never joined in the conversation, but only listened, and pressed the
ashes with his finger in his short pipe, which never left his mouth;
and would sit so long with his eyes half open, that the Cossacks never
knew whether he were asleep or still listening. He always stayed at
home during their raids, but this time the old man had joined the
army. He had waved his hand in Cossack fashion, and said, "Wherever
you go, I am going too; perhaps I may be of some service to the
Cossack nation." All the Cossacks became silent when he now stepped
forward before the assembly, for it was long since any speech from him
had been heard. Every one wanted to know what Bovdug had to say.
"It is my turn to speak a word, brother gentles," he began: "listen,
my children, to an old man. The Koschevoi spoke well as the head of
the Cossack army; being bound to protect it, and in respect to the
treasures of the army he could say nothing wiser. That is so! Let that
be my first remark; but now listen to my second. And this is my second
remark: Taras spoke even more truly. God grant him many years, and
that such leaders may be plentiful in the Ukraine! A Cossack's first
duty and honour is to guard comradeship. Never in all my life, brother
gentles, have I heard of any Cossack deserting or betraying any of his
comrades. Both those made captive at the Setch and these taken here
are our comrades. Whether they be few or many, it makes no difference;
all are our comrades, and all are dear to us. So this is my speech:
Let those to whom the prisoners captured by the Tatars are dear set
out after the Tatars; and let those to whom the captives of the Poles
are dear, and who do not care to desert a righteous cause, stay
behind. The Koschevoi, in accordance with his duty, will accompany one
half in pursuit of the Tatars, and the other half can choose a hetman
to lead them. But if you will heed the words of an old man, there is
no man fitter to be the commanding hetman than Taras Bulba. Not one of
us is his equal in heroism."
Thus spoke Bovdug, and paused; and all the Cossacks rejoiced that the
old man had in this manner brought them to an agreement. All flung up
their caps and shouted, "Thanks, father! He kept silence for a long,
long time, but he has spoken at last. Not in vain did he say, when we
prepared for this expedition, that he might be useful to the Cossack
nation: even so it has come to pass!"
"Well, are you agreed upon anything?" asked the Koschevoi.
"We are all agreed!" cried the Cossacks.
"Then the council is at an end?"
"At an end!" cried the Cossacks.
"Then listen to the military command, children," said the Koschevoi,
stepping forward, and putting on his cap; whilst all the Cossacks took
off theirs, and stood with uncovered heads, and with eyes fixed upon
the earth, as was always the custom among them when the leader
prepared to speak. "Now divide yourselves, brother gentles! Let those
who wish to go stand on the right, and those who wish to stay, on the
left. Where the majority of a kuren goes there its officers are to go:
if the minority of a kuren goes over, it must be added to another
Then they began to take up their positions, some to the right and some
to the left. Whither the majority of a kuren went thither the hetman
went also; and the minority attached itself to another kuren. It came
out pretty even on both sides. Those who wished to remain were nearly
the whole of the Nezamaikovsky kuren, the entire Oumansky kuren, the
entire Kanevsky kuren, and the larger half of the Popovitchsky, the
Timoschevsky and the Steblikivsky kurens. All the rest preferred to go
in pursuit of the Tatars. On both sides there were many stout and
brave Cossacks. Among those who decided to follow the Tatars were
Tcherevaty, and those good old Cossacks Pokotipole, Lemisch, and
Prokopovitch Koma. Demid Popovitch also went with that party, because
he could not sit long in one place: he had tried his hand on the
Lyakhs and wanted to try it on the Tatars also. The hetmans of kurens
were Nostiugan, Pokruischka, Nevnimsky, and numerous brave and
renowned Cossacks who wished to test their swords and muscles in an
encounter with the Tatars. There were likewise many brave Cossacks
among those who preferred to remain, including the kuren hetmans,
Demitrovitch, Kukubenko, Vertikhvist, Balan, and Ostap Bulba. Besides
these there were plenty of stout and distinguished warriors:
Vovtuzenko, Tcherevitchenko, Stepan Guska, Okhrim Guska, Vikola
Gonstiy, Zadorozhniy, Metelitza, Ivan Zakrutiguba, Mosiy Pisarenko,
and still another Pisarenko, and many others. They were all great
travellers; they had visited the shores of Anatolia, the salt marshes
and steppes of the Crimea, all the rivers great and small which empty
into the Dnieper, and all the fords and islands of the Dnieper; they
had been in Moldavia, Wallachia, and Turkey; they had sailed all over
the Black Sea, in their double-ruddered Cossack boats; they had
attacked with fifty skiffs in line the tallest and richest ships; they
had sunk many a Turkish galley, and had burnt much, very much powder
in their day; more than once they had made foot-bandages from velvets
and rich stuffs; more than once they had beaten buckles for their
girdles out of sequins. Every one of them had drunk and revelled away
what would have sufficed any other for a whole lifetime, and had
nothing to show for it. They spent it all, like Cossacks, in treating
all the world, and in hiring music that every one might be merry. Even
now few of them had amassed any property: some caskets, cups, and
bracelets were hidden beneath the reeds on the islands of the Dnieper
in order that the Tatars might not find them if by mishap they should
succeed in falling suddenly on the Setch; but it would have been
difficult for the Tatars to find them, for the owners themselves had
forgotten where they had buried them. Such were the Cossacks who
wished to remain and take vengeance on the Lyakhs for their trusty
comrades and the faith of Christ. The old Cossack Bovdug wished also
to remain with them, saying, "I am not of an age to pursue the Tatars,
but this is a place to meet a good Cossack death. I have long prayed
God that when my life was to end I might end it in battle for a holy
and Christian cause. And so it has come to pass. There can be no more
glorious end in any other place for the aged Cossack."
When they had all separated, and were ranged in two lines on opposite
sides, the Koschevoi passed through the ranks, and said, "Well,
brother gentles, are the two parties satisfied with each other?"
"All satisfied, father!" replied the Cossacks.
"Then kiss each other, and bid each other farewell; for God knows
whether you will ever see each other alive again. Obey your hetman,
but you know yourselves what you have to do: you know yourselves what
Cossack honour requires."
And all the Cossacks kissed each other. The hetmans first began it.
Stroking down their grey moustaches, they kissed each other, making
the sign of the cross, and then, grasping hands firmly, wanted to ask
of each other, "Well, brother, shall we see one another again or not?"
But they did not ask the question: they kept silence, and both
grey-heads were lost in thought. Then the Cossacks took leave of each
other to the last man, knowing that there was a great deal of work
before them all. Yet they were not obliged to part at once: they would
have to wait until night in order not to let the Lyakhs perceive the
diminution in the Cossack army. Then all went off, by kurens, to dine.
After dinner, all who had the prospect of the journey before them lay
down to rest, and fell into a deep and long sleep, as though
foreseeing that it was the last sleep they should enjoy in such
security. They slept even until sunset; and when the sun had gone down
and it had grown somewhat dusky, began to tar the waggons. All being
in readiness, they sent the waggons ahead, and having pulled off their
caps once more to their comrades, quietly followed the baggage train.
The cavalry, without shouts or whistles to the horses, tramped lightly
after the foot-soldiers, and all soon vanished in the darkness. The
only sound was the dull thud of horses' hoofs, or the squeak of some
wheel which had not got into working order, or had not been properly
tarred amid the darkness.
Their comrades stood for some time waving their hands, though nothing
was visible. But when they returned to their camping places and saw by
the light of the gleaming stars that half the waggons were gone, and
many of their comrades, each man's heart grew sad; all became
involuntarily pensive, and drooped their heads towards the earth.
Taras saw how troubled were the Cossack ranks, and that sadness,
unsuited to brave men, had begun to quietly master the Cossack hearts;
but he remained silent. He wished to give them time to become
accustomed to the melancholy caused by their parting from their
comrades; but, meanwhile, he was preparing to rouse them at one blow,
by a loud battle-cry in Cossack fashion, in order that good cheer
might return to the soul of each with greater strength than before. Of
this only the Slav nature, a broad, powerful nature, which is to
others what the sea is to small rivulets, is capable. In stormy times
it roars and thunders, raging, and raising such waves as weak rivers
cannot throw up; but when it is windless and quiet, it spreads its
boundless glassy surface, clearer than any river, a constant delight
to the eye.
Taras ordered his servants to unload one of the waggons which stood
apart. It was larger and stronger than any other in the Cossack camp;
two stout tires encircled its mighty wheels. It was heavily laden,
covered with horsecloths and strong wolf-skins, and firmly bound with
tightly drawn tarred ropes. In the waggon were flasks and casks of
good old wine, which had long lain in Taras's cellar. He had brought
it along, in case a moment should arrive when some deed awaited them
worthy of being handed down to posterity, so that each Cossack, to the
very last man, might quaff it, and be inspired with sentiments fitting
to the occasion. On receiving his command, the servants hastened to
the waggon, hewed asunder the stout ropes with their swords, removed
the thick wolf-skins and horsecloths, and drew forth the flasks and
"Take them all," said Bulba, "all there are; take them, that every one
may be supplied. Take jugs, or the pails for watering the horses; take
sleeve or cap; but if you have nothing else, then hold your two hands
All the Cossacks seized something: one took a jug, another a pail,
another a sleeve, another a cap, and another held both hands. Taras's
servants, making their way among the ranks, poured out for all from
the casks and flasks. But Taras ordered them not to drink until he
should give the signal for all to drink together. It was evident that
he wished to say something. He knew that however good in itself the
wine might be and however fitted to strengthen the spirit of man, yet,
if a suitable speech were linked with it, then the strength of the
wine and of the spirit would be doubled.
"I treat you, brother gentles," thus spoke Bulba, "not in honour of
your having made me hetman, however great such an honour may be, nor
in honour of our parting from our comrades. To do both would be
fitting at a fitting time; but the moment before us is not such a
time. The work before us is great both in labour and in glory for the
Cossacks. Therefore let us drink all together, let us drink before all
else to the holy orthodox faith, that the day may finally come when it
may be spread over all the world, and that everywhere there may be but
one faith, and that all Mussulmans may become Christians. And let us
also drink together to the Setch, that it may stand long for the ruin
of the Mussulmans, and that every year there may issue forth from it
young men, each better, each handsomer than the other. And let us
drink to our own glory, that our grandsons and their sons may say that
there were once men who were not ashamed of comradeship, and who never
betrayed each other. Now to the faith, brother gentles, to the faith!"
"To the faith!" cried those standing in the ranks hard by, with thick
voices. "To the faith!" those more distant took up the cry; and all,
both young and old, drank to the faith.
"To the Setch!" said Taras, raising his hand high above his head.
"To the Setch!" echoed the foremost ranks. "To the Setch!" said the
old men, softly, twitching their grey moustaches; and eagerly as young
hawks, the youths repeated, "To the Setch!" And the distant plain
heard how the Cossacks mentioned their Setch.
"Now a last draught, comrades, to the glory of all Christians now
living in the world!"
And every Cossack drank a last draught to the glory of all Christians
in the world. And among all the ranks in the kurens they long
repeated, "To all the Christians in the world!"
The pails were empty, but the Cossacks still stood with their hands
uplifted. Although the eyes of all gleamed brightly with the wine,
they were thinking deeply. Not of greed or the spoils of war were they
thinking now, nor of who would be lucky enough to get ducats, fine
weapons, embroidered caftans, and Tcherkessian horses; but they
meditated like eagles perched upon the rocky crests of mountains, from
which the distant sea is visible, dotted, as with tiny birds, with
galleys, ships, and every sort of vessel, bounded only by the scarcely
visible lines of shore, with their ports like gnats and their forests
like fine grass. Like eagles they gazed out on all the plain, with
their fate darkling in the distance. All the plain, with its slopes
and roads, will be covered with their white projecting bones, lavishly
washed with their Cossack blood, and strewn with shattered waggons and
with broken swords and spears; the eagles will swoop down and tear out
their Cossack eyes. But there is one grand advantage: not a single
noble deed will be lost, and the Cossack glory will not vanish like
the tiniest grain of powder from a gun-barrel. The guitar-player with
grey beard falling upon his breast, and perhaps a white-headed old man
still full of ripe, manly strength will come, and will speak his low,
strong words of them. And their glory will resound through all the
world, and all who are born thereafter will speak of them; for the
word of power is carried afar, ringing like a booming brazen bell, in
which the maker has mingled much rich, pure silver, that is beautiful
sound may be borne far and wide through the cities, villages, huts,
and palaces, summoning all betimes to holy prayer.
In the city, no one knew that one-half of the Cossacks had gone in
pursuit of the Tatars. From the tower of the town hall the sentinel
only perceived that a part of the waggons had been dragged into the
forest; but it was thought that the Cossacks were preparing an
ambush--a view taken by the French engineer also. Meanwhile, the
Koschevoi's words proved not unfounded, for a scarcity of provisions
arose in the city. According to a custom of past centuries, the army
did not separate as much as was necessary. They tried to make a
sortie; but half of those who did so were instantly killed by the
Cossacks, and the other half driven back into the city with no
results. But the Jews availed themselves of the opportunity to find
out everything; whither and why the Zaporozhtzi had departed, and with
what leaders, and which particular kurens, and their number, and how
many had remained on the spot, and what they intended to do; in short,
within a few minutes all was known in the city.
The besieged took courage, and prepared to offer battle. Taras had
already divined it from the noise and movement in the city, and
hastened about, making his arrangements, forming his men, and giving
orders and instructions. He ranged the kurens in three camps,
surrounding them with the waggons as bulwarks--a formation in which
the Zaporozhtzi were invincible--ordered two kurens into ambush, and
drove sharp stakes, broken guns, and fragments of spears into a part
of the plain, with a view to forcing the enemy's cavalry upon it if an
opportunity should present itself. When all was done which was
necessary, he made a speech to the Cossacks, not for the purpose of
encouraging and freshening up their spirits--he knew their souls were
strong without that--but simply because he wished to tell them all he
had upon his heart.
"I want to tell you, brother gentles, what our brotherhood is. You
have heard from your fathers and grandfathers in what honour our land
has always been held by all. We made ourselves known to the Greeks,
and we took gold from Constantinople, and our cities were luxurious,
and we had, too, our temples, and our princes--the princes of the
Russian people, our own princes, not Catholic unbelievers. But the
Mussulmans took all; all vanished, and we remained defenceless; yea,
like a widow after the death of a powerful husband: defenceless was
our land as well as ourselves! Such was the time, comrades, when we
joined hands in a brotherhood: that is what our fellowship consists
in. There is no more sacred brotherhood. The father loves his
children, the mother loves her children, the children love their
father and mother; but this is not like that, brothers. The wild beast
also loves its young. But a man can be related only by similarity of
mind and not of blood. There have been brotherhoods in other lands,
but never any such brotherhoods as on our Russian soil. It has
happened to many of you to be in foreign lands. You look: there are
people there also, God's creatures, too; and you talk with them as
with the men of your own country. But when it comes to saying a hearty
word--you will see. No! they are sensible people, but not the same;
the same kind of people, and yet not the same! No, brothers, to love
as the Russian soul loves, is to love not with the mind or anything
else, but with all that God has given, all that is within you. Ah!"
said Taras, and waved his hand, and wiped his grey head, and twitched
his moustache, and then went on: "No, no one else can love in that
way! I know that baseness has now made its way into our land. Men care
only to have their ricks of grain and hay, and their droves of horses,
and that their mead may be safe in their cellars; they adopt, the
devil only knows what Mussulman customs. They speak scornfully with
their tongues. They care not to speak their real thoughts with their
own countrymen. They sell their own things to their own comrades, like
soulless creatures in the market-place. The favour of a foreign king,
and not even a king, but the poor favour of a Polish magnate, who
beats them on the mouth with his yellow shoe, is dearer to them than
all brotherhood. But the very meanest of these vile men, whoever he
may be, given over though he be to vileness and slavishness, even he,
brothers, has some grains of Russian feeling; and they will assert
themselves some day. And then the wretched man will beat his breast
with his hands; and will tear his hair, cursing his vile life loudly,
and ready to expiate his disgraceful deeds with torture. Let them know
what brotherhood means on Russian soil! And if it has come to the
point that a man must die for his brotherhood, it is not fit that any
of them should die so. No! none of them. It is not a fit thing for
their mouse-like natures."
Thus spoke the hetman; and after he had finished his speech he still
continued to shake his head, which had grown grey in Cossack service.
All who stood there were deeply affected by his speech, which went to
their very hearts. The oldest in the ranks stood motionless, their
grey heads drooping. Tears trickled quietly from their aged eyes; they
wiped them slowly away with their sleeves, and then all, as if with
one consent, waved their hands in the air at the same moment, and
shook their experienced heads. For it was evident that old Taras
recalled to them many of the best-known and finest traits of the heart
in a man who has become wise through suffering, toil, daring, and
every earthly misfortune, or, though unknown to them, of many things
felt by young, pure spirits, to the eternal joy of the parents who
bore them.
But the army of the enemy was already marching out of the city,
sounding drums and trumpets; and the nobles, with their arms akimbo,
were riding forth too, surrounded by innumerable servants. The stout
colonel gave his orders, and they began to advance briskly on the
Cossack camps, pointing their matchlocks threateningly. Their eyes
flashed, and they were brilliant with brass armour. As soon as the
Cossacks saw that they had come within gunshot, their matchlocks
thundered all together, and they continued to fire without cessation.
The detonations resounded through the distant fields and meadows,
merging into one continuous roar. The whole plain was shrouded in
smoke, but the Zaporozhtzi continued to fire without drawing
breath--the rear ranks doing nothing but loading the guns and handing
them to those in front, thus creating amazement among the enemy, who
could not understand how the Cossacks fired without reloading. Amid
the dense smoke which enveloped both armies, it could not be seen how
first one and then another dropped: but the Lyakhs felt that the balls
flew thickly, and that the affair was growing hot; and when they
retreated to escape from the smoke and see how matters stood, many
were missing from their ranks, but only two or three out of a hundred
were killed on the Cossack side. Still the Cossacks went on firing off
their matchlocks without a moment's intermission. Even the foreign
engineers were amazed at tactics heretofore unknown to them, and said
then and there, in the presence of all, "These Zaporozhtzi are brave
fellows. That is the way men in other lands ought to fight." And they
advised that the cannons should at once be turned on the camps.
Heavily roared the iron cannons with their wide throats; the earth
hummed and trembled far and wide, and the smoke lay twice as heavy
over the plain. They smelt the reek of the powder among the squares
and streets in the most distant as well as the nearest quarters of the
city. But those who laid the cannons pointed them too high, and the
shot describing too wide a curve flew over the heads of the camps, and
buried themselves deep in the earth at a distance, tearing the ground,
and throwing the black soil high in the air. At the sight of such lack
of skill the French engineer tore his hair, and undertook to lay the
cannons himself, heeding not the Cossack bullets which showered round
Taras saw from afar that destruction menaced the whole Nezamaikovsky
and Steblikivsky kurens, and gave a ringing shout, "Get away from the
waggons instantly, and mount your horses!" But the Cossacks would not
have succeeded in effecting both these movements if Ostap had not
dashed into the middle of the foe and wrenched the linstocks from six
cannoneers. But he could not wrench them from the other four, for the
Lyakhs drove him back. Meanwhile the foreign captain had taken the
lunt in his own hand to fire the largest cannon, such a cannon as none
of the Cossacks had ever beheld before. It looked horrible with its
wide mouth, and a thousand deaths poured forth from it. And as it
thundered, the three others followed, shaking in fourfold earthquake
the dully responsive earth. Much woe did they cause. For more than one
Cossack wailed the aged mother, beating with bony hands her feeble
breast; more than one widow was left in Glukhof, Nemirof, Chernigof,
and other cities. The loving woman will hasten forth every day to the
bazaar, grasping at all passers-by, scanning the face of each to see
if there be not among them one dearer than all; but though many an
army will pass through the city, never among them will a single one of
all their dearest be.
Half the Nezamaikovsky kuren was as if it had never been. As the hail
suddenly beats down a field where every ear of grain shines like
purest gold, so were they beaten down.
How the Cossacks hastened thither! How they all started up! How raged
Kukubenko, the hetman, when he saw that the best half of his kuren was
no more! He fought his way with his remaining Nezamaikovtzi to the
very midst of the fray, cut down in his wrath, like a cabbage, the
first man he met, hurled many a rider from his steed, piercing both
horse and man with his lance; and making his way to the gunners,
captured some of the cannons. Here he found the hetman of the Oumansky
kuren, and Stepan Guska, hard at work, having already seized the
largest cannon. He left those Cossacks there, and plunged with his own
into another mass of the foe, making a lane through it. Where the
Nezamaikovtzi passed there was a street; where they turned about there
was a square as where streets meet. The foemen's ranks were visibly
thinning, and the Lyakhs falling in sheaves. Beside the waggons stood
Vovtuzenko, and in front Tcherevitchenko, and by the more distant ones
Degtyarenko; and behind them the kuren hetman, Vertikhvist.
Degtyarenko had pierced two Lyakhs with his spear, and now attacked a
third, a stout antagonist. Agile and strong was the Lyakh, with
glittering arms, and accompanied by fifty followers. He fell fiercely
upon Degtyarenko, struck him to the earth, and, flourishing his sword
above him, cried, "There is not one of you Cossack dogs who has dared
to oppose me."
"Here is one," said Mosiy Schilo, and stepped forward. He was a
muscular Cossack, who had often commanded at sea, and undergone many
vicissitudes. The Turks had once seized him and his men at Trebizond,
and borne them captives to the galleys, where they bound them hand and
foot with iron chains, gave them no food for a week at a time, and
made them drink sea-water. The poor prisoners endured and suffered
all, but would not renounce their orthodox faith. Their hetman, Mosiy
Schilo, could not bear it: he trampled the Holy Scriptures under foot,
wound the vile turban about his sinful head, and became the favourite
of a pasha, steward of a ship, and ruler over all the galley slaves.
The poor slaves sorrowed greatly thereat, for they knew that if he had
renounced his faith he would be a tyrant, and his hand would be the
more heavy and severe upon them. So it turned out. Mosiy Schilo had
them put in new chains, three to an oar. The cruel fetters cut to the
very bone; and he beat them upon the back. But when the Turks,
rejoicing at having obtained such a servant, began to carouse, and,
forgetful of their law, got all drunk, he distributed all the
sixty-four keys among the prisoners, in order that they might free
themselves, fling their chains and manacles into the sea, and,
seizing their swords, in turn kill the Turks. Then the Cossacks
collected great booty, and returned with glory to their country; and
the guitar-players celebrated Mosiy Schilo's exploits for a long time.
They would have elected him Koschevoi, but he was a very eccentric
Cossack. At one time he would perform some feat which the most
sagacious would never have dreamed of. At another, folly simply took
possession of him, and he drank and squandered everything away, was in
debt to every one in the Setch, and, in addition to that, stole like a
street thief. He carried off a whole Cossack equipment from a strange
kuren by night and pawned it to the tavern-keeper. For this
dishonourable act they bound him to a post in the bazaar, and laid a
club beside him, in order that every one who passed should, according
to the measure of his strength, deal him a blow. But there was not one
Zaporozhetz out of them all to be found who would raise the club
against him, remembering his former services. Such was the Cossack,
Mosiy Schilo.
"Here is one who will kill you, dog!" he said, springing upon the
Lyakh. How they hacked away! their shoulder-plates and breast-plates
bent under their blows. The hostile Lyakh cut through Schilo's shirt
of mail, reaching the body itself with his blade. The Cossack's shirt
was dyed purple: but Schilo heeded it not. He brandished his brawny
hand, heavy indeed was that mighty fist, and brought the pommel of his
sword down unexpectedly upon his foeman's head. The brazen helmet flew
into pieces and the Lyakh staggered and fell; but Schilo went on
hacking and cutting gashes in the body of the stunned man. Kill not
utterly thine enemy, Cossack: look back rather! The Cossack did not
turn, and one of the dead man's servants plunged a knife into his
neck. Schilo turned and tried to seize him, but he disappeared amid
the smoke of the powder. On all sides rose the roar of matchlocks.
Schilo knew that his wound was mortal. He fell with his hand upon his
wound, and said, turning to his comrades, "Farewell, brother gentles,
my comrades! may the holy Russian land stand forever, and may it be
eternally honoured!" And as he closed his failing eyes, the Cossack
soul fled from his grim body. Then Zadorozhniy came forward with his
men, Vertikhvist issued from the ranks, and Balaban stepped forth.
"What now, gentles?" said Taras, calling to the hetmans by name:
"there is yet powder in the power-flasks? The Cossack force is not
weakened? the Cossacks do not yield?"
"There is yet powder in the flasks, father; the Cossack force is not
weakened yet: the Cossacks yield not!"
And the Cossacks pressed vigorously on: the foemen's ranks were
disordered. The short colonel beat the assembly, and ordered eight
painted standards to be displayed to collect his men, who were
scattered over all the plain. All the Lyakhs hastened to the
standards. But they had not yet succeeded in ranging themselves in
order, when the hetman Kukubenko attacked their centre again with his
Nezamaikovtzi and fell straight upon the stout colonel. The colonel
could not resist the attack, and, wheeling his horse about, set out at
a gallop; but Kukubenko pursued him for a considerable distance cross
the plain and prevented him from joining his regiment.
Perceiving this from the kuren on the flank, Stepan Guska set out
after him, lasso in hand, bending his head to his horse's neck. Taking
advantage of an opportunity, he cast his lasso about his neck at the
first attempt. The colonel turned purple in the face, grasped the cord
with both hands, and tried to break it; but with a powerful thrust
Stepan drove his lance through his body, and there he remained pinned
to the earth. But Guska did not escape his fate. The Cossacks had but
time to look round when they beheld Stepan Guska elevated on four
spears. All the poor fellow succeeded in saying was, "May all our
enemies perish, and may the Russian land rejoice forever!" and then he
yielded up his soul.
The Cossacks glanced around, and there was Metelitza on one side,
entertaining the Lyakhs by dealing blows on the head to one and
another; on the other side, the hetman Nevelitchkiy was attacking with
his men; and Zakrutibuga was repulsing and slaying the enemy by the
waggons. The third Pisarenko had repulsed a whole squadron from the
more distant waggons; and they were still fighting and killing amongst
the other waggons, and even upon them.
"How now, gentles?" cried Taras, stepping forward before them all: "is
there still powder in your flasks? Is the Cossack force still strong?
do the Cossacks yield?"
"There is still powder in the flasks, father; the Cossack force is
still strong: the Cossacks yield not!"
But Bovdug had already fallen from the waggons; a bullet had struck
him just below the heart. The old man collected all his strength, and
said, "I sorrow not to part from the world. God grant every man such
an end! May the Russian land be forever glorious!" And Bovdug's spirit
flew above, to tell the old men who had gone on long before that men
still knew how to fight on Russian soil, and better still, that they
knew how to die for it and the holy faith.
Balaban, hetman of a kuren, soon after fell to the ground also from a
waggon. Three mortal wounds had he received from a lance, a bullet,
and a sword. He had been one of the very best of Cossacks, and had
accomplished a great deal as a commander on naval expeditions; but
more glorious than all the rest was his raid on the shores of
Anatolia. They collected many sequins, much valuable Turkish plunder,
caftans, and adornments of every description. But misfortune awaited
them on their way back. They came across the Turkish fleet, and were
fired on by the ships. Half the boats were crushed and overturned,
drowning more than one; but the bundles of reeds bound to the sides,
Cossack fashion, saved the boats from completely sinking. Balaban
rowed off at full speed, and steered straight in the face of the sun,
thus rendering himself invisible to the Turkish ships. All the
following night they spent in baling out the water with pails and
their caps, and in repairing the damaged places. They made sails out
of their Cossack trousers, and, sailing off, escaped from the fastest
Turkish vessels. And not only did they arrive unharmed at the Setch,
but they brought a gold-embroidered vesture for the archimandrite at
the Mezhigorsky Monastery in Kief, and an ikon frame of pure silver
for the church in honour of the Intercession of the Virgin Mary, which
is in Zaporozhe. The guitar-players celebrated the daring of Balaban
and his Cossacks for a long time afterwards. Now he bowed his head,
feeling the pains which precede death, and said quietly, "I am
permitted, brother gentles, to die a fine death. Seven have I hewn in
pieces, nine have I pierced with my lance, many have I trampled upon
with my horse's hoofs; and I no longer remember how many my bullets
have slain. May our Russian land flourish forever!" and his spirit
Cossacks, Cossacks! abandon not the flower of your army. Already was
Kukubenko surrounded, and seven men only remained of all the
Nezamaikovsky kuren, exhausted and with garments already stained with
their blood. Taras himself, perceiving their straits, hastened to
their rescue; but the Cossacks arrived too late. Before the enemies
who surrounded him could be driven off, a spear was buried just below
Kukubenko's heart. He sank into the arms of the Cossacks who caught
him, and his young blood flowed in a stream, like precious wine
brought from the cellar in a glass vessel by careless servants, who,
stumbling at the entrance, break the rich flask. The wine streams over
the ground, and the master, hastening up, tears his hair, having
reserved it, in order that if God should grant him, in his old age, to
meet again the comrade of his youth, they might over it recall
together former days, when a man enjoyed himself otherwise and better
than now. Kukubenko cast his eyes around, and said, "I thank God that
it has been my lot to die before your eyes, comrades. May they live
better who come after us than we have lived; and may our Russian land,
beloved by Christ, flourish forever!" and his young spirit fled. The
angels took it in their arms and bore it to heaven: it will be well
with him there. "Sit down at my right hand, Kukubenko," Christ will
say to him: "you never betrayed your comrades, you never committed a
dishonourable act, you never sold a man into misery, you preserved and
defended my church." The death of Kukubenko saddened them all. The
Cossack ranks were terribly thinned. Many brave men were missing, but
the Cossacks still stood their ground.
"How now, gentles," cried Taras to the remaining kurens: "is there
still powder in your flasks? Are your swords blunted? Are the Cossack
forces wearied? Have the Cossacks given way?"
"There is still an abundance of powder; our swords are still sharp;
the Cossack forces are not wearied, and the Cossacks have not yet
And the Cossacks again strained every nerve, as though they had
suffered no loss. Only three kuren hetmans still remained alive. Red
blood flowed in streams everywhere; heaps of their bodies and of those
of the enemy were piled high. Taras looked up to heaven, and there
already hovered a flock of vultures. Well, there would be prey for
some one. And there the foe were raising Metelitza on their lances,
and the head of the second Pisarenko was dizzily opening and shutting
its eyes; and the mangled body of Okhrim Guska fell upon the ground.
"Now," said Taras, and waved a cloth on high. Ostap understood this
signal and springing quickly from his ambush attacked sharply. The
Lyakhs could not withstand this onslaught; and he drove them back, and
chased them straight to the spot where the stakes and fragments of
spears were driven into the earth. The horses began to stumble and
fall and the Lyakhs to fly over their heads. At that moment the
Korsuntzi, who had stood till the last by the baggage waggons,
perceived that they still had some bullets left, and suddenly fired a
volley from their matchlocks. The Lyakhs became confused, and lost
their presence of mind; and the Cossacks took courage. "The victory is
ours!" rang Cossack voices on all sides; the trumpets sounded and the
banner of victory was unfurled. The beaten Lyakhs ran in all
directions and hid themselves. "No, the victory is not yet complete,"
said Taras, glancing at the city gate; and he was right.
The gates opened, and out dashed a hussar band, the flower of all the
cavalry. Every rider was mounted on a matched brown horse from the
Kabardei; and in front rode the handsomest, the most heroic of them
all. His black hair streamed from beneath his brazen helmet; and from
his arm floated a rich scarf, embroidered by the hands of a peerless
beauty. Taras sprang back in horror when he saw that it was Andrii.
And the latter meanwhile, enveloped in the dust and heat of battle,
eager to deserve the scarf which had been bound as a gift upon his
arm, flew on like a greyhound; the handsomest, most agile, and
youngest of all the band. The experienced huntsman urges on the
greyhound, and he springs forward, tossing up the snow, and a score of
times outrunning the hare, in the ardour of his course. And so it was
with Andrii. Old Taras paused and observed how he cleared a path
before him, hewing away and dealing blows to the right and the left.
Taras could not restrain himself, but shouted: "Your comrades! your
comrades! you devil's brat, would you kill your own comrades?" But
Andrii distinguished not who stood before him, comrades or strangers;
he saw nothing. Curls, long curls, were what he saw; and a bosom like
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
than alive.
"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.
Taras fired.
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.
Taras nodded.
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
render it?"
"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
contains brandy?"
"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
within him.
"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
the others.
"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
triple-tiered moustache.
"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
Cossacks are."
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
his own.
"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
our men."
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
demanded more.
"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
and curiosity.
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!
well done!"
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
only annihilation.
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
the drowning.
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
his eyes.
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.
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
stopped me.
"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[1]." 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.
[1] 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
stunned him.
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
Bear's ravine."
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
mocking me!"
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
overpowered him.
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[2]--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.
[2] "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
wild cries.
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
the street.
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
finished it.
"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.
"Why is it impossible, Petrovitch?" he said, almost in the pleading
voice of a child; "all that ails it is, that it is worn on the
shoulders. You must have some pieces--"
"Yes, patches could be found, patches are easily found," said
Petrovitch, "but there's nothing to sew them to. The thing is
completely rotten; if you put a needle to it--see, it will give way."
"Let it give way, and you can put on another patch at once."
"But there is nothing to put the patches on to; there's no use in
strengthening it; it is too far gone. It's lucky that it's cloth; for,
if the wind were to blow, it would fly away."
"Well, strengthen it again. How will this, in fact--"
"No," said Petrovitch decisively, "there is nothing to be done with
it. It's a thoroughly bad job. You'd better, when the cold winter
weather comes on, make yourself some gaiters out of it, because
stockings are not warm. The Germans invented them in order to make
more money." Petrovitch loved, on all occasions, to have a fling at
the Germans. "But it is plain you must have a new cloak."
At the word "new," all grew dark before Akakiy Akakievitch's eyes, and
everything in the room began to whirl round. The only thing he saw
clearly was the general with the paper face on the lid of Petrovitch's
snuff-box. "A new one?" said he, as if still in a dream: "why, I have
no money for that."
"Yes, a new one," said Petrovitch, with barbarous composure.
"Well, if it came to a new one, how would it--?"
"You mean how much would it cost?"
"Well, you would have to lay out a hundred and fifty or more," said
Petrovitch, and pursed up his lips significantly. He liked to produce
powerful effects, liked to stun utterly and suddenly, and then to
glance sideways to see what face the stunned person would put on the
"A hundred and fifty rubles for a cloak!" shrieked poor Akakiy
Akakievitch, perhaps for the first time in his life, for his voice had
always been distinguished for softness.
"Yes, sir," said Petrovitch, "for any kind of cloak. If you have a
marten fur on the collar, or a silk-lined hood, it will mount up to
two hundred."
"Petrovitch, please," said Akakiy Akakievitch in a beseeching tone,
not hearing, and not trying to hear, Petrovitch's words, and
disregarding all his "effects," "some repairs, in order that it may
wear yet a little longer."
"No, it would only be a waste of time and money," said Petrovitch; and
Akakiy Akakievitch went away after these words, utterly discouraged.
But Petrovitch stood for some time after his departure, with
significantly compressed lips, and without betaking himself to his
work, satisfied that he would not be dropped, and an artistic tailor
Akakiy Akakievitch went out into the street as if in a dream. "Such an
affair!" he said to himself: "I did not think it had come to--" and
then after a pause, he added, "Well, so it is! see what it has come to
at last! and I never imagined that it was so!" Then followed a long
silence, after which he exclaimed, "Well, so it is! see what
already--nothing unexpected that--it would be nothing--what a strange
circumstance!" So saying, instead of going home, he went in exactly
the opposite direction without himself suspecting it. On the way, a
chimney-sweep bumped up against him, and blackened his shoulder, and a
whole hatful of rubbish landed on him from the top of a house which
was building. He did not notice it; and only when he ran against a
watchman, who, having planted his halberd beside him, was shaking some
snuff from his box into his horny hand, did he recover himself a
little, and that because the watchman said, "Why are you poking
yourself into a man's very face? Haven't you the pavement?" This
caused him to look about him, and turn towards home.
There only, he finally began to collect his thoughts, and to survey
his position in its clear and actual light, and to argue with himself,
sensibly and frankly, as with a reasonable friend with whom one can
discuss private and personal matters. "No," said Akakiy Akakievitch,
"it is impossible to reason with Petrovitch now; he is that--evidently
his wife has been beating him. I'd better go to him on Sunday morning;
after Saturday night he will be a little cross-eyed and sleepy, for he
will want to get drunk, and his wife won't give him any money; and at
such a time, a ten-kopek piece in his hand will--he will become more
fit to reason with, and then the cloak, and that--" Thus argued Akakiy
Akakievitch with himself, regained his courage, and waited until the
first Sunday, when, seeing from afar that Petrovitch's wife had left
the house, he went straight to him.
Petrovitch's eye was, indeed, very much askew after Saturday: his head
drooped, and he was very sleepy; but for all that, as soon as he knew
what it was a question of, it seemed as though Satan jogged his
memory. "Impossible," said he: "please to order a new one." Thereupon
Akakiy Akakievitch handed over the ten-kopek piece. "Thank you, sir; I
will drink your good health," said Petrovitch: "but as for the cloak,
don't trouble yourself about it; it is good for nothing. I will make
you a capital new one, so let us settle about it now."
Akakiy Akakievitch was still for mending it; but Petrovitch would not
hear of it, and said, "I shall certainly have to make you a new one,
and you may depend upon it that I shall do my best. It may even be, as
the fashion goes, that the collar can be fastened by silver hooks
under a flap."
Then Akakiy Akakievitch saw that it was impossible to get along
without a new cloak, and his spirit sank utterly. How, in fact, was it
to be done? Where was the money to come from? He might, to be sure,
depend, in part, upon his present at Christmas; but that money had
long been allotted beforehand. He must have some new trousers, and pay
a debt of long standing to the shoemaker for putting new tops to his
old boots, and he must order three shirts from the seamstress, and a
couple of pieces of linen. In short, all his money must be spent; and
even if the director should be so kind as to order him to receive
forty-five rubles instead of forty, or even fifty, it would be a mere
nothing, a mere drop in the ocean towards the funds necessary for a
cloak: although he knew that Petrovitch was often wrong-headed enough
to blurt out some outrageous price, so that even his own wife could
not refrain from exclaiming, "Have you lost your senses, you fool?" At
one time he would not work at any price, and now it was quite likely
that he had named a higher sum than the cloak would cost.
But although he knew that Petrovitch would undertake to make a cloak
for eighty rubles, still, where was he to get the eighty rubles from?
He might possibly manage half, yes, half might be procured, but where
was the other half to come from? But the reader must first be told
where the first half came from. Akakiy Akakievitch had a habit of
putting, for every ruble he spent, a groschen into a small box,
fastened with a lock and key, and with a slit in the top for the
reception of money. At the end of every half-year he counted over the
heap of coppers, and changed it for silver. This he had done for a
long time, and in the course of years, the sum had mounted up to over
forty rubles. Thus he had one half on hand; but where was he to find
the other half? where was he to get another forty rubles from? Akakiy
Akakievitch thought and thought, and decided that it would be
necessary to curtail his ordinary expenses, for the space of one year
at least, to dispense with tea in the evening; to burn no candles,
and, if there was anything which he must do, to go into his landlady's
room, and work by her light. When he went into the street, he must
walk as lightly as he could, and as cautiously, upon the stones,
almost upon tiptoe, in order not to wear his heels down in too short a
time; he must give the laundress as little to wash as possible; and,
in order not to wear out his clothes, he must take them off, as soon
as he got home, and wear only his cotton dressing-gown, which had been
long and carefully saved.
To tell the truth, it was a little hard for him at first to accustom
himself to these deprivations; but he got used to them at length,
after a fashion, and all went smoothly. He even got used to being
hungry in the evening, but he made up for it by treating himself, so
to say, in spirit, by bearing ever in mind the idea of his future
cloak. From that time forth his existence seemed to become, in some
way, fuller, as if he were married, or as if some other man lived in
him, as if, in fact, he were not alone, and some pleasant friend had
consented to travel along life's path with him, the friend being no
other than the cloak, with thick wadding and a strong lining incapable
of wearing out. He became more lively, and even his character grew
firmer, like that of a man who has made up his mind, and set himself a
goal. From his face and gait, doubt and indecision, all hesitating and
wavering traits disappeared of themselves. Fire gleamed in his eyes,
and occasionally the boldest and most daring ideas flitted through his
mind; why not, for instance, have marten fur on the collar? The
thought of this almost made him absent-minded. Once, in copying a
letter, he nearly made a mistake, so that he exclaimed almost aloud,
"Ugh!" and crossed himself. Once, in the course of every month, he had
a conference with Petrovitch on the subject of the cloak, where it
would be better to buy the cloth, and the colour, and the price. He
always returned home satisfied, though troubled, reflecting that the
time would come at last when it could all be bought, and then the
cloak made.
The affair progressed more briskly than he had expected. Far beyond
all his hopes, the director awarded neither forty nor forty-five
rubles for Akakiy Akakievitch's share, but sixty. Whether he suspected
that Akakiy Akakievitch needed a cloak, or whether it was merely
chance, at all events, twenty extra rubles were by this means
provided. This circumstance hastened matters. Two or three months more
of hunger and Akakiy Akakievitch had accumulated about eighty rubles.
His heart, generally so quiet, began to throb. On the first possible
day, he went shopping in company with Petrovitch. They bought some
very good cloth, and at a reasonable rate too, for they had been
considering the matter for six months, and rarely let a month pass
without their visiting the shops to inquire prices. Petrovitch himself
said that no better cloth could be had. For lining, they selected a
cotton stuff, but so firm and thick that Petrovitch declared it to be
better than silk, and even prettier and more glossy. They did not buy
the marten fur, because it was, in fact, dear, but in its stead, they
picked out the very best of cat-skin which could be found in the shop,
and which might, indeed, be taken for marten at a distance.
Petrovitch worked at the cloak two whole weeks, for there was a great
deal of quilting: otherwise it would have been finished sooner. He
charged twelve rubles for the job, it could not possibly have been
done for less. It was all sewed with silk, in small, double seams; and
Petrovitch went over each seam afterwards with his own teeth, stamping
in various patterns.
It was--it is difficult to say precisely on what day, but probably the
most glorious one in Akakiy Akakievitch's life, when Petrovitch at
length brought home the cloak. He brought it in the morning, before
the hour when it was necessary to start for the department. Never did
a cloak arrive so exactly in the nick of time; for the severe cold had
set in, and it seemed to threaten to increase. Petrovitch brought the
cloak himself as befits a good tailor. On his countenance was a
significant expression, such as Akakiy Akakievitch had never beheld
there. He seemed fully sensible that he had done no small deed, and
crossed a gulf separating tailors who only put in linings, and execute
repairs, from those who make new things. He took the cloak out of the
pocket handkerchief in which he had brought it. The handkerchief was
fresh from the laundress, and he put it in his pocket for use. Taking
out the cloak, he gazed proudly at it, held it up with both hands, and
flung it skilfully over the shoulders of Akakiy Akakievitch. Then he
pulled it and fitted it down behind with his hand, and he draped it
around Akakiy Akakievitch without buttoning it. Akakiy Akakievitch,
like an experienced man, wished to try the sleeves. Petrovitch helped
him on with them, and it turned out that the sleeves were satisfactory
also. In short, the cloak appeared to be perfect, and most seasonable.
Petrovitch did not neglect to observe that it was only because he
lived in a narrow street, and had no signboard, and had known Akakiy
Akakievitch so long, that he had made it so cheaply; but that if he
had been in business on the Nevsky Prospect, he would have charged
seventy-five rubles for the making alone. Akakiy Akakievitch did not
care to argue this point with Petrovitch. He paid him, thanked him,
and set out at once in his new cloak for the department. Petrovitch
followed him, and, pausing in the street, gazed long at the cloak in
the distance, after which he went to one side expressly to run through
a crooked alley, and emerge again into the street beyond to gaze once
more upon the cloak from another point, namely, directly in front.
Meantime Akakiy Akakievitch went on in holiday mood. He was conscious
every second of the time that he had a new cloak on his shoulders; and
several times he laughed with internal satisfaction. In fact, there
were two advantages, one was its warmth, the other its beauty. He saw
nothing of the road, but suddenly found himself at the department. He
took off his cloak in the ante-room, looked it over carefully, and
confided it to the especial care of the attendant. It is impossible to
say precisely how it was that every one in the department knew at once
that Akakiy Akakievitch had a new cloak, and that the "cape" no longer
existed. All rushed at the same moment into the ante-room to inspect
it. They congratulated him and said pleasant things to him, so that he
began at first to smile and then to grow ashamed. When all surrounded
him, and said that the new cloak must be "christened," and that he
must give a whole evening at least to this, Akakiy Akakievitch lost
his head completely, and did not know where he stood, what to answer,
or how to get out of it. He stood blushing all over for several
minutes, and was on the point of assuring them with great simplicity
that it was not a new cloak, that it was so and so, that it was in
fact the old "cape."
At length one of the officials, a sub-chief probably, in order to show
that he was not at all proud, and on good terms with his inferiors,
said, "So be it, only I will give the party instead of Akakiy
Akakievitch; I invite you all to tea with me to-night; it happens
quite a propos, as it is my name-day." The officials naturally at once
offered the sub-chief their congratulations and accepted the
invitations with pleasure. Akakiy Akakievitch would have declined, but
all declared that it was discourteous, that it was simply a sin and a
shame, and that he could not possibly refuse. Besides, the notion
became pleasant to him when he recollected that he should thereby have
a chance of wearing his new cloak in the evening also.
That whole day was truly a most triumphant festival day for Akakiy
Akakievitch. He returned home in the most happy frame of mind, took
off his cloak, and hung it carefully on the wall, admiring afresh the
cloth and the lining. Then he brought out his old, worn-out cloak, for
comparison. He looked at it and laughed, so vast was the difference.
And long after dinner he laughed again when the condition of the
"cape" recurred to his mind. He dined cheerfully, and after dinner
wrote nothing, but took his ease for a while on the bed, until it got
dark. Then he dressed himself leisurely, put on his cloak, and stepped
out into the street. Where the host lived, unfortunately we cannot
say: our memory begins to fail us badly; and the houses and streets in
St. Petersburg have become so mixed up in our head that it is very
difficult to get anything out of it again in proper form. This much is
certain, that the official lived in the best part of the city; and
therefore it must have been anything but near to Akakiy Akakievitch's
residence. Akakiy Akakievitch was first obliged to traverse a kind of
wilderness of deserted, dimly-lighted streets; but in proportion as he
approached the official's quarter of the city, the streets became more
lively, more populous, and more brilliantly illuminated. Pedestrians
began to appear; handsomely dressed ladies were more frequently
encountered; the men had otter skin collars to their coats; peasant
waggoners, with their grate-like sledges stuck over with brass-headed
nails, became rarer; whilst on the other hand, more and more drivers
in red velvet caps, lacquered sledges and bear-skin coats began to
appear, and carriages with rich hammer-cloths flew swiftly through the
streets, their wheels scrunching the snow. Akakiy Akakievitch gazed
upon all this as upon a novel sight. He had not been in the streets
during the evening for years. He halted out of curiosity before a
shop-window to look at a picture representing a handsome woman, who
had thrown off her shoe, thereby baring her whole foot in a very
pretty way; whilst behind her the head of a man with whiskers and a
handsome moustache peeped through the doorway of another room. Akakiy
Akakievitch shook his head and laughed, and then went on his way. Why
did he laugh? Either because he had met with a thing utterly unknown,
but for which every one cherishes, nevertheless, some sort of feeling;
or else he thought, like many officials, as follows: "Well, those
French! What is to be said? If they do go in anything of that sort,
why--" But possibly he did not think at all.
Akakiy Akakievitch at length reached the house in which the sub-chief
lodged. The sub-chief lived in fine style: the staircase was lit by a
lamp; his apartment being on the second floor. On entering the
vestibule, Akakiy Akakievitch beheld a whole row of goloshes on the
floor. Among them, in the centre of the room, stood a samovar or
tea-urn, humming and emitting clouds of steam. On the walls hung all
sorts of coats and cloaks, among which there were even some with
beaver collars or velvet facings. Beyond, the buzz of conversation was
audible, and became clear and loud when the servant came out with a
trayful of empty glasses, cream-jugs, and sugar-bowls. It was evident
that the officials had arrived long before, and had already finished
their first glass of tea.
Akakiy Akakievitch, having hung up his own cloak, entered the inner
room. Before him all at once appeared lights, officials, pipes, and
card-tables; and he was bewildered by the sound of rapid conversation
rising from all the tables, and the noise of moving chairs. He halted
very awkwardly in the middle of the room, wondering what he ought to
do. But they had seen him. They received him with a shout, and all
thronged at once into the ante-room, and there took another look at
his cloak. Akakiy Akakievitch, although somewhat confused, was
frank-hearted, and could not refrain from rejoicing when he saw how
they praised his cloak. Then, of course, they all dropped him and his
cloak, and returned, as was proper, to the tables set out for whist.
All this, the noise, the talk, and the throng of people was rather
overwhelming to Akakiy Akakievitch. He simply did not know where he
stood, or where to put his hands, his feet, and his whole body.
Finally he sat down by the players, looked at the cards, gazed at the
face of one and another, and after a while began to gape, and to feel
that it was wearisome, the more so as the hour was already long past
when he usually went to bed. He wanted to take leave of the host; but
they would not let him go, saying that he must not fail to drink a
glass of champagne in honour of his new garment. In the course of an
hour, supper, consisting of vegetable salad, cold veal, pastry,
confectioner's pies, and champagne, was served. They made Akakiy
Akakievitch drink two glasses of champagne, after which he felt things
grow livelier.
Still, he could not forget that it was twelve o'clock, and that he
should have been at home long ago. In order that the host might not
think of some excuse for detaining him, he stole out of the room
quickly, sought out, in the ante-room, his cloak, which, to his
sorrow, he found lying on the floor, brushed it, picked off every
speck upon it, put it on his shoulders, and descended the stairs to
the street.
In the street all was still bright. Some petty shops, those permanent
clubs of servants and all sorts of folk, were open. Others were shut,
but, nevertheless, showed a streak of light the whole length of the
door-crack, indicating that they were not yet free of company, and
that probably some domestics, male and female, were finishing their
stories and conversations whilst leaving their masters in complete
ignorance as to their whereabouts. Akakiy Akakievitch went on in a
happy frame of mind: he even started to run, without knowing why,
after some lady, who flew past like a flash of lightning. But he
stopped short, and went on very quietly as before, wondering why he
had quickened his pace. Soon there spread before him those deserted
streets, which are not cheerful in the daytime, to say nothing of the
evening. Now they were even more dim and lonely: the lanterns began to
grow rarer, oil, evidently, had been less liberally supplied. Then
came wooden houses and fences: not a soul anywhere; only the snow
sparkled in the streets, and mournfully veiled the low-roofed cabins
with their closed shutters. He approached the spot where the street
crossed a vast square with houses barely visible on its farther side,
a square which seemed a fearful desert.
Afar, a tiny spark glimmered from some watchman's box, which seemed to
stand on the edge of the world. Akakiy Akakievitch's cheerfulness
diminished at this point in a marked degree. He entered the square,
not without an involuntary sensation of fear, as though his heart
warned him of some evil. He glanced back and on both sides, it was
like a sea about him. "No, it is better not to look," he thought, and
went on, closing his eyes. When he opened them, to see whether he was
near the end of the square, he suddenly beheld, standing just before
his very nose, some bearded individuals of precisely what sort he
could not make out. All grew dark before his eyes, and his heart
"But, of course, the cloak is mine!" said one of them in a loud voice,
seizing hold of his collar. Akakiy Akakievitch was about to shout
"watch," when the second man thrust a fist, about the size of a man's
head, into his mouth, muttering, "Now scream!"
Akakiy Akakievitch felt them strip off his cloak and give him a push
with a knee: he fell headlong upon the snow, and felt no more. In a
few minutes he recovered consciousness and rose to his feet; but no
one was there. He felt that it was cold in the square, and that his
cloak was gone; he began to shout, but his voice did not appear to
reach to the outskirts of the square. In despair, but without ceasing
to shout, he started at a run across the square, straight towards the
watchbox, beside which stood the watchman, leaning on his halberd, and
apparently curious to know what kind of a customer was running towards
him and shouting. Akakiy Akakievitch ran up to him, and began in a
sobbing voice to shout that he was asleep, and attended to nothing,
and did not see when a man was robbed. The watchman replied that he
had seen two men stop him in the middle of the square, but supposed
that they were friends of his; and that, instead of scolding vainly,
he had better go to the police on the morrow, so that they might make
a search for whoever had stolen the cloak.
Akakiy Akakievitch ran home in complete disorder; his hair, which grew
very thinly upon his temples and the back of his head, wholly
disordered; his body, arms, and legs covered with snow. The old woman,
who was mistress of his lodgings, on hearing a terrible knocking,
sprang hastily from her bed, and, with only one shoe on, ran to open
the door, pressing the sleeve of her chemise to her bosom out of
modesty; but when she had opened it, she fell back on beholding Akakiy
Akakievitch in such a state. When he told her about the affair, she
clasped her hands, and said that he must go straight to the district
chief of police, for his subordinate would turn up his nose, promise
well, and drop the matter there. The very best thing to do, therefore,
would be to go to the district chief, whom she knew, because Finnish
Anna, her former cook, was now nurse at his house. She often saw him
passing the house; and he was at church every Sunday, praying, but at
the same time gazing cheerfully at everybody; so that he must be a
good man, judging from all appearances. Having listened to this
opinion, Akakiy Akakievitch betook himself sadly to his room; and how
he spent the night there any one who can put himself in another's
place may readily imagine.
Early in the morning, he presented himself at the district chief's;
but was told that this official was asleep. He went again at ten and
was again informed that he was asleep; at eleven, and they said: "The
superintendent is not at home;" at dinner time, and the clerks in the
ante-room would not admit him on any terms, and insisted upon knowing
his business. So that at last, for once in his life, Akakiy
Akakievitch felt an inclination to show some spirit, and said curtly
that he must see the chief in person; that they ought not to presume
to refuse him entrance; that he came from the department of justice,
and that when he complained of them, they would see.
The clerks dared make no reply to this, and one of them went to call
the chief, who listened to the strange story of the theft of the coat.
Instead of directing his attention to the principal points of the
matter, he began to question Akakiy Akakievitch: Why was he going home
so late? Was he in the habit of doing so, or had he been to some
disorderly house? So that Akakiy Akakievitch got thoroughly confused,
and left him without knowing whether the affair of his cloak was in
proper train or not.
All that day, for the first time in his life, he never went near the
department. The next day he made his appearance, very pale, and in his
old cape, which had become even more shabby. The news of the robbery
of the cloak touched many; although there were some officials present
who never lost an opportunity, even such a one as the present, of
ridiculing Akakiy Akakievitch. They decided to make a collection for
him on the spot, but the officials had already spent a great deal in
subscribing for the director's portrait, and for some book, at the
suggestion of the head of that division, who was a friend of the
author; and so the sum was trifling.
One of them, moved by pity, resolved to help Akakiy Akakievitch with
some good advice at least, and told him that he ought not to go to the
police, for although it might happen that a police-officer, wishing to
win the approval of his superiors, might hunt up the cloak by some
means, still his cloak would remain in the possession of the police if
he did not offer legal proof that it belonged to him. The best thing
for him, therefore, would be to apply to a certain prominent
personage; since this prominent personage, by entering into relations
with the proper persons, could greatly expedite the matter.
As there was nothing else to be done, Akakiy Akakievitch decided to go
to the prominent personage. What was the exact official position of
the prominent personage remains unknown to this day. The reader must
know that the prominent personage had but recently become a prominent
personage, having up to that time been only an insignificant person.
Moreover, his present position was not considered prominent in
comparison with others still more so. But there is always a circle of
people to whom what is insignificant in the eyes of others, is
important enough. Moreover, he strove to increase his importance by
sundry devices; for instance, he managed to have the inferior
officials meet him on the staircase when he entered upon his service;
no one was to presume to come directly to him, but the strictest
etiquette must be observed; the collegiate recorder must make a report
to the government secretary, the government secretary to the titular
councillor, or whatever other man was proper, and all business must
come before him in this manner. In Holy Russia all is thus
contaminated with the love of imitation; every man imitates and copies
his superior. They even say that a certain titular councillor, when
promoted to the head of some small separate room, immediately
partitioned off a private room for himself, called it the audience
chamber, and posted at the door a lackey with red collar and braid,
who grasped the handle of the door and opened to all comers; though
the audience chamber could hardly hold an ordinary writing-table.
The manners and customs of the prominent personage were grand and
imposing, but rather exaggerated. The main foundation of his system
was strictness. "Strictness, strictness, and always strictness!" he
generally said; and at the last word he looked significantly into the
face of the person to whom he spoke. But there was no necessity for
this, for the half-score of subordinates who formed the entire force
of the office were properly afraid; on catching sight of him afar off
they left their work and waited, drawn up in line, until he had passed
through the room. His ordinary converse with his inferiors smacked of
sternness, and consisted chiefly of three phrases: "How dare you?" "Do
you know whom you are speaking to?" "Do you realise who stands before
Otherwise he was a very kind-hearted man, good to his comrades, and
ready to oblige; but the rank of general threw him completely off his
balance. On receiving any one of that rank, he became confused, lost
his way, as it were, and never knew what to do. If he chanced to be
amongst his equals he was still a very nice kind of man, a very good
fellow in many respects, and not stupid; but the very moment that he
found himself in the society of people but one rank lower than himself
he became silent; and his situation aroused sympathy, the more so as
he felt himself that he might have been making an incomparably better
use of his time. In his eyes there was sometimes visible a desire to
join some interesting conversation or group; but he was kept back by
the thought, "Would it not be a very great condescension on his part?
Would it not be familiar? and would he not thereby lose his
importance?" And in consequence of such reflections he always remained
in the same dumb state, uttering from time to time a few monosyllabic
sounds, and thereby earning the name of the most wearisome of men.
To this prominent personage Akakiy Akakievitch presented himself, and
this at the most unfavourable time for himself though opportune for
the prominent personage. The prominent personage was in his cabinet
conversing gaily with an old acquaintance and companion of his
childhood whom he had not seen for several years and who had just
arrived when it was announced to him that a person named Bashmatchkin
had come. He asked abruptly, "Who is he?"--"Some official," he was
informed. "Ah, he can wait! this is no time for him to call," said the
important man.
It must be remarked here that the important man lied outrageously: he
had said all he had to say to his friend long before; and the
conversation had been interspersed for some time with very long
pauses, during which they merely slapped each other on the leg, and
said, "You think so, Ivan Abramovitch!" "Just so, Stepan Varlamitch!"
Nevertheless, he ordered that the official should be kept waiting, in
order to show his friend, a man who had not been in the service for a
long time, but had lived at home in the country, how long officials
had to wait in his ante-room.
At length, having talked himself completely out, and more than that,
having had his fill of pauses, and smoked a cigar in a very
comfortable arm-chair with reclining back, he suddenly seemed to
recollect, and said to the secretary, who stood by the door with
papers of reports, "So it seems that there is a tchinovnik waiting to
see me. Tell him that he may come in." On perceiving Akakiy
Akakievitch's modest mien and his worn undress uniform, he turned
abruptly to him and said, "What do you want?" in a curt hard voice,
which he had practised in his room in private, and before the
looking-glass, for a whole week before being raised to his present
Akakiy Akakievitch, who was already imbued with a due amount of fear,
became somewhat confused: and as well as his tongue would permit,
explained, with a rather more frequent addition than usual of the word
"that," that his cloak was quite new, and had been stolen in the most
inhuman manner; that he had applied to him in order that he might, in
some way, by his intermediation--that he might enter into
correspondence with the chief of police, and find the cloak.
For some inexplicable reason this conduct seemed familiar to the
prominent personage. "What, my dear sir!" he said abruptly, "are you
not acquainted with etiquette? Where have you come from? Don't you
know how such matters are managed? You should first have entered a
complaint about this at the court below: it would have gone to the
head of the department, then to the chief of the division, then it
would have been handed over to the secretary, and the secretary would
have given it to me."
"But, your excellency," said Akakiy Akakievitch, trying to collect his
small handful of wits, and conscious at the same time that he was
perspiring terribly, "I, your excellency, presumed to trouble you
because secretaries--are an untrustworthy race."
"What, what, what!" said the important personage. "Where did you get
such courage? Where did you get such ideas? What impudence towards
their chiefs and superiors has spread among the young generation!" The
prominent personage apparently had not observed that Akakiy
Akakievitch was already in the neighbourhood of fifty. If he could be
called a young man, it must have been in comparison with some one who
was twenty. "Do you know to whom you speak? Do you realise who stands
before you? Do you realise it? do you realise it? I ask you!" Then he
stamped his foot and raised his voice to such a pitch that it would
have frightened even a different man from Akakiy Akakievitch.
Akakiy Akakievitch's senses failed him; he staggered, trembled in
every limb, and, if the porters had not run to support him, would have
fallen to the floor. They carried him out insensible. But the
prominent personage, gratified that the effect should have surpassed
his expectations, and quite intoxicated with the thought that his word
could even deprive a man of his senses, glanced sideways at his friend
in order to see how he looked upon this, and perceived, not without
satisfaction, that his friend was in a most uneasy frame of mind, and
even beginning, on his part, to feel a trifle frightened.
Akakiy Akakievitch could not remember how he descended the stairs and
got into the street. He felt neither his hands nor feet. Never in his
life had he been so rated by any high official, let alone a strange
one. He went staggering on through the snow-storm, which was blowing
in the streets, with his mouth wide open; the wind, in St. Petersburg
fashion, darted upon him from all quarters, and down every
cross-street. In a twinkling it had blown a quinsy into his throat,
and he reached home unable to utter a word. His throat was swollen,
and he lay down on his bed. So powerful is sometimes a good scolding!
The next day a violent fever showed itself. Thanks to the generous
assistance of the St. Petersburg climate, the malady progressed more
rapidly than could have been expected: and when the doctor arrived, he
found, on feeling the sick man's pulse, that there was nothing to be
done, except to prescribe a fomentation, so that the patient might not
be left entirely without the beneficent aid of medicine; but at the
same time, he predicted his end in thirty-six hours. After this he
turned to the landlady, and said, "And as for you, don't waste your
time on him: order his pine coffin now, for an oak one will be too
expensive for him." Did Akakiy Akakievitch hear these fatal words? and
if he heard them, did they produce any overwhelming effect upon him?
Did he lament the bitterness of his life?--We know not, for he
continued in a delirious condition. Visions incessantly appeared to
him, each stranger than the other. Now he saw Petrovitch, and ordered
him to make a cloak, with some traps for robbers, who seemed to him to
be always under the bed; and cried every moment to the landlady to
pull one of them from under his coverlet. Then he inquired why his old
mantle hung before him when he had a new cloak. Next he fancied that
he was standing before the prominent person, listening to a thorough
setting-down, and saying, "Forgive me, your excellency!" but at last
he began to curse, uttering the most horrible words, so that his aged
landlady crossed herself, never in her life having heard anything of
the kind from him, the more so as those words followed directly after
the words "your excellency." Later on he talked utter nonsense, of
which nothing could be made: all that was evident being, that his
incoherent words and thoughts hovered ever about one thing, his cloak.
At length poor Akakiy Akakievitch breathed his last. They sealed up
neither his room nor his effects, because, in the first place, there
were no heirs, and, in the second, there was very little to inherit
beyond a bundle of goose-quills, a quire of white official paper,
three pairs of socks, two or three buttons which had burst off his
trousers, and the mantle already known to the reader. To whom all this
fell, God knows. I confess that the person who told me this tale took
no interest in the matter. They carried Akakiy Akakievitch out and
buried him.
And St. Petersburg was left without Akakiy Akakievitch, as though he
had never lived there. A being disappeared who was protected by none,
dear to none, interesting to none, and who never even attracted to
himself the attention of those students of human nature who omit no
opportunity of thrusting a pin through a common fly, and examining it
under the microscope. A being who bore meekly the jibes of the
department, and went to his grave without having done one unusual
deed, but to whom, nevertheless, at the close of his life appeared a
bright visitant in the form of a cloak, which momentarily cheered his
poor life, and upon whom, thereafter, an intolerable misfortune
descended, just as it descends upon the mighty of this world!
Several days after his death, the porter was sent from the department
to his lodgings, with an order for him to present himself there
immediately; the chief commanding it. But the porter had to return
unsuccessful, with the answer that he could not come; and to the
question, "Why?" replied, "Well, because he is dead! he was buried
four days ago." In this manner did they hear of Akakiy Akakievitch's
death at the department, and the next day a new official sat in his
place, with a handwriting by no means so upright, but more inclined
and slanting.
But who could have imagined that this was not really the end of Akakiy
Akakievitch, that he was destined to raise a commotion after death, as
if in compensation for his utterly insignificant life? But so it
happened, and our poor story unexpectedly gains a fantastic ending.
A rumour suddenly spread through St. Petersburg that a dead man had
taken to appearing on the Kalinkin Bridge and its vicinity at night in
the form of a tchinovnik seeking a stolen cloak, and that, under the
pretext of its being the stolen cloak, he dragged, without regard to
rank or calling, every one's cloak from his shoulders, be it cat-skin,
beaver, fox, bear, sable; in a word, every sort of fur and skin which
men adopted for their covering. One of the department officials saw
the dead man with his own eyes and immediately recognised in him
Akakiy Akakievitch. This, however, inspired him with such terror that
he ran off with all his might, and therefore did not scan the dead man
closely, but only saw how the latter threatened him from afar with his
finger. Constant complaints poured in from all quarters that the backs
and shoulders, not only of titular but even of court councillors, were
exposed to the danger of a cold on account of the frequent dragging
off of their cloaks.
Arrangements were made by the police to catch the corpse, alive or
dead, at any cost, and punish him as an example to others in the most
severe manner. In this they nearly succeeded; for a watchman, on guard
in Kirushkin Alley, caught the corpse by the collar on the very scene
of his evil deeds, when attempting to pull off the frieze coat of a
retired musician. Having seized him by the collar, he summoned, with a
shout, two of his comrades, whom he enjoined to hold him fast while he
himself felt for a moment in his boot, in order to draw out his
snuff-box and refresh his frozen nose. But the snuff was of a sort
which even a corpse could not endure. The watchman having closed his
right nostril with his finger, had no sooner succeeded in holding half
a handful up to the left than the corpse sneezed so violently that he
completely filled the eyes of all three. While they raised their hands
to wipe them, the dead man vanished completely, so that they
positively did not know whether they had actually had him in their
grip at all. Thereafter the watchmen conceived such a terror of dead
men that they were afraid even to seize the living, and only screamed
from a distance, "Hey, there! go your way!" So the dead tchinovnik
began to appear even beyond the Kalinkin Bridge, causing no little
terror to all timid people.
But we have totally neglected that certain prominent personage who may
really be considered as the cause of the fantastic turn taken by this
true history. First of all, justice compels us to say that after the
departure of poor, annihilated Akakiy Akakievitch he felt something
like remorse. Suffering was unpleasant to him, for his heart was
accessible to many good impulses, in spite of the fact that his rank
often prevented his showing his true self. As soon as his friend had
left his cabinet, he began to think about poor Akakiy Akakievitch. And
from that day forth, poor Akakiy Akakievitch, who could not bear up
under an official reprimand, recurred to his mind almost every day.
The thought troubled him to such an extent that a week later he even
resolved to send an official to him, to learn whether he really could
assist him; and when it was reported to him that Akakiy Akakievitch
had died suddenly of fever, he was startled, hearkened to the
reproaches of his conscience, and was out of sorts for the whole day.
Wishing to divert his mind in some way, and drive away the
disagreeable impression, he set out that evening for one of his
friends' houses, where he found quite a large party assembled. What
was better, nearly every one was of the same rank as himself, so that
he need not feel in the least constrained. This had a marvellous
effect upon his mental state. He grew expansive, made himself
agreeable in conversation, in short, he passed a delightful evening.
After supper he drank a couple of glasses of champagne--not a bad
recipe for cheerfulness, as every one knows. The champagne inclined
him to various adventures; and he determined not to return home, but
to go and see a certain well-known lady of German extraction, Karolina
Ivanovna, a lady, it appears, with whom he was on a very friendly
It must be mentioned that the prominent personage was no longer a
young man, but a good husband and respected father of a family. Two
sons, one of whom was already in the service, and a good-looking,
sixteen-year-old daughter, with a rather retrousse but pretty little
nose, came every morning to kiss his hand and say, "Bonjour, papa."
His wife, a still fresh and good-looking woman, first gave him her
hand to kiss, and then, reversing the procedure, kissed his. But the
prominent personage, though perfectly satisfied in his domestic
relations, considered it stylish to have a friend in another quarter
of the city. This friend was scarcely prettier or younger than his
wife; but there are such puzzles in the world, and it is not our place
to judge them. So the important personage descended the stairs,
stepped into his sledge, said to the coachman, "To Karolina
Ivanovna's," and, wrapping himself luxuriously in his warm cloak,
found himself in that delightful frame of mind than which a Russian
can conceive no better, namely, when you think of nothing yourself,
yet when the thoughts creep into your mind of their own accord, each
more agreeable than the other, giving you no trouble either to drive
them away or seek them. Fully satisfied, he recalled all the gay
features of the evening just passed, and all the mots which had made
the little circle laugh. Many of them he repeated in a low voice, and
found them quite as funny as before; so it is not surprising that he
should laugh heartily at them. Occasionally, however, he was
interrupted by gusts of wind, which, coming suddenly, God knows whence
or why, cut his face, drove masses of snow into it, filled out his
cloak-collar like a sail, or suddenly blew it over his head with
supernatural force, and thus caused him constant trouble to
disentangle himself.
Suddenly the important personage felt some one clutch him firmly by
the collar. Turning round, he perceived a man of short stature, in an
old, worn uniform, and recognised, not without terror, Akakiy
Akakievitch. The official's face was white as snow, and looked just
like a corpse's. But the horror of the important personage transcended
all bounds when he saw the dead man's mouth open, and, with a terrible
odour of the grave, gave vent to the following remarks: "Ah, here you
are at last! I have you, that--by the collar! I need your cloak; you
took no trouble about mine, but reprimanded me; so now give up your
The pallid prominent personage almost died of fright. Brave as he was
in the office and in the presence of inferiors generally, and
although, at the sight of his manly form and appearance, every one
said, "Ugh! how much character he had!" at this crisis, he, like many
possessed of an heroic exterior, experienced such terror, that, not
without cause, he began to fear an attack of illness. He flung his
cloak hastily from his shoulders and shouted to his coachman in an
unnatural voice, "Home at full speed!" The coachman, hearing the tone
which is generally employed at critical moments and even accompanied
by something much more tangible, drew his head down between his
shoulders in case of an emergency, flourished his whip, and flew on
like an arrow. In a little more than six minutes the prominent
personage was at the entrance of his own house. Pale, thoroughly
scared, and cloakless, he went home instead of to Karolina Ivanovna's,
reached his room somehow or other, and passed the night in the direst
distress; so that the next morning over their tea his daughter said,
"You are very pale to-day, papa." But papa remained silent, and said
not a word to any one of what had happened to him, where he had been,
or where he had intended to go.
This occurrence made a deep impression upon him. He even began to say:
"How dare you? do you realise who stands before you?" less frequently
to the under-officials, and if he did utter the words, it was only
after having first learned the bearings of the matter. But the most
noteworthy point was, that from that day forward the apparition of the
dead tchinovnik ceased to be seen. Evidently the prominent personage's
cloak just fitted his shoulders; at all events, no more instances of
his dragging cloaks from people's shoulders were heard of. But many
active and apprehensive persons could by no means reassure themselves,
and asserted that the dead tchinovnik still showed himself in distant
parts of the city.
In fact, one watchman in Kolomna saw with his own eyes the apparition
come from behind a house. But being rather weak of body, he dared not
arrest him, but followed him in the dark, until, at length, the
apparition looked round, paused, and inquired, "What do you want?" at
the same time showing a fist such as is never seen on living men. The
watchman said, "It's of no consequence," and turned back instantly.
But the apparition was much too tall, wore huge moustaches, and,
directing its steps apparently towards the Obukhoff bridge,
disappeared in the darkness of the night.
A fine pelisse has Ivan Ivanovitch! splendid! And what lambskin! deuce
take it, what lambskin! blue-black with silver lights. I'll forfeit, I
know not what, if you find any one else owning such a one. Look at it,
for heaven's sake, especially when he stands talking with any one!
look at him side-ways: what a pleasure it is! To describe it is
impossible: velvet! silver! fire! Nikolai the Wonder-worker, saint of
God! why have I not such a pelisse? He had it made before Agafya
Fedosyevna went to Kief. You know Agafya Fedosyevna who bit the
assessor's ear off?
Ivan Ivanovitch is a very handsome man. What a house he has in
Mirgorod! Around it on every side is a balcony on oaken pillars, and
on the balcony are benches. Ivan Ivanovitch, when the weather gets too
warm, throws off his pelisse and his remaining upper garments, and
sits, in his shirt sleeves, on the balcony to observe what is going on
in the courtyard and the street. What apples and pears he has under
his very windows! You have but to open the window and the branches
force themselves through into the room. All this is in front of the
house; but you should see what he has in the garden. What is there not
there? Plums, cherries, every sort of vegetable, sunflowers,
cucumbers, melons, peas, a threshing-floor, and even a forge.
A very fine man, Ivan Ivanovitch! He is very fond of melons: they are
his favourite food. As soon as he has dined, and come out on his
balcony, in his shirt sleeves, he orders Gapka to bring two melons,
and immediately cuts them himself, collects the seeds in a paper, and
begins to eat. Then he orders Gapka to fetch the ink-bottle, and, with
his own hand, writes this inscription on the paper of seeds: "These
melons were eaten on such and such a date." If there was a guest
present, then it reads, "Such and such a person assisted."
The late judge of Mirgorod always gazed at Ivan Ivanovitch's house
with pleasure. The little house is very pretty. It pleases me because
sheds and other little additions are built on to it on all sides; so
that, looking at it from a distance, only roofs are visible, rising
one above another, and greatly resembling a plate full of pancakes,
or, better still, fungi growing on the trunk of a tree. Moreover, the
roof is all overgrown with weeds: a willow, an oak, and two
apple-trees lean their spreading branches against it. Through the
trees peep little windows with carved and white-washed shutters, which
project even into the street.
A very fine man, Ivan Ivanovitch! The commissioner of Poltava knows
him too. Dorosh Tarasovitch Pukhivotchka, when he leaves Khorola,
always goes to his house. And when Father Peter, the Protopope who
lives at Koliberdas, invites a few guests, he always says that he
knows of no one who so well fulfils all his Christian duties and
understands so well how to live as Ivan Ivanovitch.
How time flies! More than ten years have already passed since he
became a widower. He never had any children. Gapka has children and
they run about the court-yard. Ivan Ivanovitch always gives each of
them a cake, or a slice of melon, or a pear.
Gapka carries the keys of the storerooms and cellars; but the key of
the large chest which stands in his bedroom, and that of the centre
storeroom, Ivan Ivanovitch keeps himself; Gapka is a healthy girl,
with ruddy cheeks and calves, and goes about in coarse cloth garments.
And what a pious man is Ivan Ivanovitch! Every Sunday he dons his
pelisse and goes to church. On entering, he bows on all sides,
generally stations himself in the choir, and sings a very good bass.
When the service is over, Ivan Ivanovitch cannot refrain from passing
the poor people in review. He probably would not have cared to
undertake this tiresome work if his natural goodness had not urged him
to it. "Good-day, beggar!" he generally said, selecting the most
crippled old woman, in the most patched and threadbare garments.
"Whence come you, my poor woman?"
"I come from the farm, sir. 'Tis two days since I have eaten or drunk:
my own children drove me out."
"Poor soul! why did you come hither?"
"To beg alms, sir, to see whether some one will not give me at least
enough for bread."
"Hm! so you want bread?" Ivan Ivanovitch generally inquired.
"How should it be otherwise? I am as hungry as a dog."
"Hm!" replied Ivan Ivanovitch usually, "and perhaps you would like
butter too?"
"Yes; everything which your kindness will give; I will be content with
"Hm! Is butter better than bread?"
"How is a hungry person to choose? Anything you please, all is good."
Thereupon the old woman generally extended her hand.
"Well, go with God's blessing," said Ivan Ivanovitch. "Why do you
stand there? I'm not beating you." And turning to a second and a third
with the same questions, he finally returns home, or goes to drink a
little glass of vodka with his neighbour, Ivan Nikiforovitch, or the
judge, or the chief of police.
Ivan Ivanovitch is very fond of receiving presents. They please him
A very fine man too is Ivan Nikiforovitch. They are such friends as
the world never saw. Anton Prokofievitch Pupopuz, who goes about to
this hour in his cinnamon-coloured surtout with blue sleeves and dines
every Sunday with the judge, was in the habit of saying that the Devil
himself had bound Ivan Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch together with
a rope: where one went, the other followed.
Ivan Nikiforovitch has never married. Although it was reported that he
was married it was completely false. I know Ivan Nikiforovitch very
well, and am able to state that he never even had any intention of
marrying. Where do all these scandals originate? In the same way it
was rumoured that Ivan Nikiforovitch was born with a tail! But this
invention is so clumsy and at the same time so horrible and indecent
that I do not even consider it necessary to refute it for the benefit
of civilised readers, to whom it is doubtless known that only witches,
and very few even of these, have tails. Witches, moreover, belong more
to the feminine than to the masculine gender.
In spite of their great friendship, these rare friends are not always
agreed between themselves. Their characters can best be judged by
comparing them. Ivan Ivanovitch has the usual gift of speaking in an
extremely pleasant manner. Heavens! How he does speak! The feeling can
best be described by comparing it to that which you experience when
some one combs your head or draws his finger softly across your heel.
You listen and listen until you drop your head. Pleasant, exceedingly
pleasant! like the sleep after a bath. Ivan Nikiforovitch, on the
contrary, is more reticent; but if he once takes up his parable, look
out for yourself! He can talk your head off.
Ivan Ivanovitch is tall and thin: Ivan Nikiforovitch is rather shorter
in stature, but he makes it up in thickness. Ivan Ivanovitch's head is
like a radish, tail down; Ivan Nikiforovitch's like a radish with the
tail up. Ivan Ivanovitch lolls on the balcony in his shirt sleeves
after dinner only: in the evening he dons his pelisse and goes out
somewhere, either to the village shop, where he supplies flour, or
into the fields to catch quail. Ivan Nikiforovitch lies all day at his
porch: if the day is not too hot he generally turns his back to the
sun and will not go anywhere. If it happens to occur to him in the
morning he walks through the yard, inspects the domestic affairs, and
retires again to his room. In early days he used to call on Ivan
Ivanovitch. Ivan Ivanovitch is a very refined man, and never utters an
impolite word. Ivan Nikiforovitch is not always on his guard. On such
occasions Ivan Ivanovitch usually rises from his seat, and says,
"Enough, enough, Ivan Nikiforovitch! It's better to go out at once
than to utter such godless words."
Ivan Ivanovitch gets into a terrible rage if a fly falls into his
beet-soup. Then he is fairly beside himself; he flings away his plate
and the housekeeper catches it. Ivan Nikiforovitch is very fond of
bathing; and when he gets up to the neck in water, orders a table and
a samovar, or tea urn, to be placed on the water, for he is very fond
of drinking tea in that cool position. Ivan Ivanovitch shaves twice a
week; Ivan Nikiforovitch once. Ivan Ivanovitch is extremely curious.
God preserve you if you begin to tell him anything and do not finish
it! If he is displeased with anything he lets it be seen at once. It
is very hard to tell from Ivan Nikiforovitch's countenance whether he
is pleased or angry; even if he is rejoiced at anything, he will not
show it. Ivan Ivanovitch is of a rather timid character: Ivan
Nikiforovitch, on the contrary, has, as the saying is, such full folds
in his trousers that if you were to inflate them you might put the
courtyard, with its storehouses and buildings, inside them.
Ivan Ivanovitch has large, expressive eyes, of a snuff colour, and a
mouth shaped something like the letter V; Ivan Nikiforovitch has
small, yellowish eyes, quite concealed between heavy brows and fat
cheeks; and his nose is the shape of a ripe plum. If Ivanovitch treats
you to snuff, he always licks the cover of his box first with his
tongue, then taps on it with his finger and says, as he raises it, if
you are an acquaintance, "Dare I beg you, sir, to give me the
pleasure?" if a stranger, "Dare I beg you, sir, though I have not the
honour of knowing your rank, name, and family, to do me the favour?"
but Ivan Nikiforovitch puts his box straight into your hand and merely
adds, "Do me the favour." Neither Ivan Ivanovitch nor Ivan
Nikiforovitch loves fleas; and therefore, neither Ivan Ivanovitch nor
Ivan Nikiforovitch will, on no account, admit a Jew with his wares,
without purchasing of him remedies against these insects, after having
first rated him well for belonging to the Hebrew faith.
But in spite of numerous dissimilarities, Ivan Ivanovitch and Ivan
Nikiforovitch are both very fine fellows.
One morning--it was in July--Ivan Ivanovitch was lying on his balcony.
The day was warm; the air was dry, and came in gusts. Ivan Ivanovitch
had been to town, to the mower's, and at the farm, and had succeeded
in asking all the muzhiks and women whom he met all manner of
questions. He was fearfully tired and had laid down to rest. As he lay
there, he looked at the storehouse, the courtyard, the sheds, the
chickens running about, and thought to himself, "Heavens! What a
well-to-do man I am! What is there that I have not? Birds, buildings,
granaries, everything I take a fancy to; genuine distilled vodka;
pears and plums in the orchard; poppies, cabbages, peas in the garden;
what is there that I have not? I should like to know what there is
that I have not?"
As he put this question to himself, Ivan Ivanovitch reflected; and
meantime his eyes, in their search after fresh objects, crossed the
fence into Ivan Nikiforovitch's yard and involuntarily took note of a
curious sight. A fat woman was bringing out clothes, which had been
packed away, and spreading them out on the line to air. Presently an
old uniform with worn trimmings was swinging its sleeves in the air
and embracing a brocade gown; from behind it peeped a court-coat, with
buttons stamped with coats-of-arms, and moth-eaten collar; and white
kersymere pantaloons with spots, which had once upon a time clothed
Ivan Nikiforovitch's legs, and might now possibly fit his fingers.
Behind them were speedily hung some more in the shape of the letter
pi. Then came a blue Cossack jacket, which Ivan Nikiforovitch had had
made twenty years before, when he was preparing to enter the militia,
and allowed his moustache to grow. And one after another appeared a
sword, projecting into the air like a spit, and the skirts of a
grass-green caftan-like garment, with copper buttons the size of a
five-kopek piece, unfolded themselves. From among the folds peeped a
vest bound with gold, with a wide opening in front. The vest was soon
concealed by an old petticoat belonging to his dead grandmother, with
pockets which would have held a water-melon.
All these things piled together formed a very interesting spectacle
for Ivan Ivanovitch; while the sun's rays, falling upon a blue or
green sleeve, a red binding, or a scrap of gold brocade, or playing in
the point of a sword, formed an unusual sight, similar to the
representations of the Nativity given at farmhouses by wandering
bands; particularly that part where the throng of people, pressing
close together, gaze at King Herod in his golden crown or at Anthony
leading his goat.
Presently the old woman crawled, grunting, from the storeroom,
dragging after her an old-fashioned saddle with broken stirrups, worn
leather holsters, and saddle-cloth, once red, with gilt embroidery and
copper disks.
"Here's a stupid woman," thought Ivan Ivanovitch. "She'll be dragging
Ivan Nikiforovitch out and airing him next."
Ivan Ivanovitch was not so far wrong in his surmise. Five minutes
later, Ivan Nikiforovitch's nankeen trousers appeared, and took nearly
half the yard to themselves. After that she fetched out a hat and a
gun. "What's the meaning of this?" thought Ivan Ivanovitch. "I never
knew Ivan Nikiforovitch had a gun. What does he want with it? Whether
he shoots, or not, he keeps a gun! Of what use is it to him? But it's
a splendid thing. I have long wanted just such a one. I should like
that gun very much: I like to amuse myself with a gun. Hello, there,
woman, woman!" shouted Ivan Ivanovitch, beckoning to her.
The old woman approached the fence.
"What's that you have there, my good woman?"
"A gun, as you see."
"What sort of a gun?"
"Who knows what sort of a gun? If it were mine, perhaps I should know
what it is made of; but it is my master's, therefore I know nothing of
Ivan Ivanovitch rose, and began to examine the gun on all sides, and
forgot to reprove the old woman for hanging it and the sword out to
"It must be iron," went on the old woman.
"Hm, iron! why iron?" said Ivan Ivanovitch. "Has your master had it
"Yes; long, perhaps."
"It's a nice gun!" continued Ivan Ivanovitch. "I will ask him for it.
What can he want with it? I'll make an exchange with him for it. Is
your master at home, my good woman?"
"What is he doing? lying down?"
"Yes, lying down."
"Very well, I will come to him."
Ivan Ivanovitch dressed himself, took his well-seasoned stick for the
benefit of the dogs, for, in Mirgorod, there are more dogs than people
to be met in the street, and went out.
Although Ivan Nikiforovitch's house was next door to Ivan
Ivanovitch's, so that you could have got from one to the other by
climbing the fence, yet Ivan Ivanovitch went by way of the street.
From the street it was necessary to turn into an alley which was so
narrow that if two one-horse carts chanced to meet they could not get
out, and were forced to remain there until the drivers, seizing the
hind-wheels, dragged them back in opposite directions into the street,
whilst pedestrians drew aside like flowers growing by the fence on
either hand. Ivan Ivanovitch's waggon-shed adjoined this alley on one
side; and on the other were Ivan Nikiforovitch's granary, gate, and
Ivan Ivanovitch went up to the gate and rattled the latch. Within
arose the barking of dogs; but the motley-haired pack ran back,
wagging their tails when they saw the well-known face. Ivan Ivanovitch
traversed the courtyard, in which were collected Indian doves, fed by
Ivan Nikiforovitch's own hand, melon-rinds, vegetables, broken wheels,
barrel-hoops, and a small boy wallowing with dirty blouse--a picture
such as painters love. The shadows of the fluttering clothes covered
nearly the whole of the yard and lent it a degree of coolness. The
woman greeted him with a bend of her head and stood, gaping, in one
spot. The front of the house was adorned with a small porch, with its
roof supported on two oak pillars--a welcome protection from the sun,
which at that season in Little Russia loves not to jest, and bathes
the pedestrian from head to foot in perspiration. It may be judged how
powerful Ivan Ivanovitch's desire to obtain the coveted article was
when he made up his mind, at such an hour, to depart from his usual
custom, which was to walk abroad only in the evening.
The room which Ivan Ivanovitch entered was quite dark, for the
shutters were closed; and the ray of sunlight passing through a hole
made in one of them took on the colours of the rainbow, and, striking
the opposite wall, sketched upon it a parti-coloured picture of the
outlines of roofs, trees, and the clothes suspended in the yard, only
upside down. This gave the room a peculiar half-light.
"God assist you!" said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Ah! how do you do, Ivan Ivanovitch?" replied a voice from the corner
of the room. Then only did Ivan Ivanovitch perceive Ivan Nikiforovitch
lying upon a rug which was spread on the floor. "Excuse me for
appearing before you in a state of nature."
"Not at all. You have been asleep, Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
"I have been asleep. Have you been asleep, Ivan Ivanovitch?"
"I have."
"And now you have risen?"
"Now I have risen. Christ be with you, Ivan Nikiforovitch! How can you
sleep until this time? I have just come from the farm. There's very
fine barley on the road, charming! and the hay is tall and soft and
"Gorpina!" shouted Ivan Nikiforovitch, "fetch Ivan Ivanovitch some
vodka, and some pastry and sour cream!"
"Fine weather we're having to-day."
"Don't praise it, Ivan Ivanovitch! Devil take it! You can't get away
from the heat."
"Now, why need you mention the devil! Ah, Ivan Nikiforovitch! you will
recall my words when it's too late. You will suffer in the next world
for such godless words."
"How have I offended you, Ivan Ivanovitch? I have not attacked your
father nor your mother. I don't know how I have insulted you."
"Enough, enough, Ivan Nikiforovitch!"
"By Heavens, Ivan Ivanovitch, I did not insult you!"
"It's strange that the quails haven't come yet to the whistle."
"Think what you please, but I have not insulted you in any way."
"I don't know why they don't come," said Ivan Ivanovitch, as if he did
not hear Ivan Nikiforovitch; "it is more than time for them already;
but they seem to need more time for some reason."
"You say that the barley is good?"
"Splendid barley, splendid!"
A silence ensued.
"So you are having your clothes aired, Ivan Nikiforovitch?" said Ivan
Ivanovitch at length.
"Yes; those cursed women have ruined some beautiful clothes; almost
new they were too. Now I'm having them aired; the cloth is fine and
good. They only need turning to make them fit to wear again."
"One thing among them pleased me extremely, Ivan Nikiforovitch."
"What was that?"
"Tell me, please, what use do you make of the gun that has been put to
air with the clothes?" Here Ivan Ivanovitch offered his snuff. "May I
ask you to do me the favour?"
"By no means! take it yourself; I will use my own." Thereupon Ivan
Nikiforovitch felt about him, and got hold of his snuff-box. "That
stupid woman! So she hung the gun out to air. That Jew at Sorotchintzi
makes good snuff. I don't know what he puts in it, but it is so very
fragrant. It is a little like tansy. Here, take a little and chew it;
isn't it like tansy?"
"Ivan Nikiforovitch, I want to talk about that gun; what are you going
to do with it? You don't need it."
"Why don't I need it? I might want to go shooting."
"God be with you, Ivan Nikiforovitch! When will you go shooting? At
the millennium, perhaps? So far as I know, or any one can recollect,
you never killed even a duck; yes, and you are not built to go
shooting. You have a dignified bearing and figure; how are you to drag
yourself about the marshes, especially when your garment, which it is
not polite to mention in conversation by name, is being aired at this
very moment? No; you require rest, repose." Ivan Ivanovitch as has
been hinted at above, employed uncommonly picturesque language when it
was necessary to persuade any one. How he talked! Heavens, how he
could talk! "Yes, and you require polite actions. See here, give it to
"The idea! The gun is valuable; you can't find such guns anywhere
nowadays. I bought it of a Turk when I joined the militia; and now, to
give it away all of a sudden! Impossible! It is an indispensable
"Indispensable for what?"
"For what? What if robbers should attack the house? . . .
Indispensable indeed! Glory to God! I know that a gun stands in my
"A fine gun that! Why, Ivan Nikiforovitch, the lock is ruined."
"What do you mean by ruined? It can be set right; all that needs to be
done is to rub it with hemp-oil, so that it may not rust."
"I see in your words, Ivan Nikiforovitch, anything but a friendly
disposition towards me. You will do nothing for me in token of
"How can you say, Ivan Ivanovitch, that I show you no friendship? You
ought to be ashamed of yourself. Your oxen pasture on my steppes and I
have never interfered with them. When you go to Poltava, you always
ask for my waggon, and what then? Have I ever refused? Your children
climb over the fence into my yard and play with my dogs--I never say
anything; let them play, so long as they touch nothing; let them
"If you won't give it to me, then let us make some exchange."
"What will you give me for it?" Thereupon Ivan Nikiforovitch raised
himself on his elbow, and looked at Ivan Ivanovitch.
"I will give you my dark-brown sow, the one I have fed in the sty. A
magnificent sow. You'll see, she'll bring you a litter of pigs next
"I do not see, Ivan Ivanovitch, how you can talk so. What could I do
with your sow? Make a funeral dinner for the devil?"
"Again! You can't get along without the devil! It's a sin! by Heaven,
it's a sin, Ivan Nikiforovitch!"
"What do you mean, Ivan Ivanovitch, by offering the deuce knows what
kind of a sow for my gun?"
"Why is she 'the deuce knows what,' Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
"Why? You can judge for yourself perfectly well; here's the gun, a
known thing; but the deuce knows what that sow is like! If it had not
been you who said it, Ivan Ivanovitch, I might have put an insulting
construction on it."
"What defect have you observed in the sow?"
"For what do you take me--for a sow?"
"Sit down, sit down! I won't-- No matter about your gun; let it rot
and rust where it stands in the corner of the storeroom. I don't want
to say anything more about it!"
After this a pause ensued.
"They say," began Ivan Ivanovitch, "that three kings have declared war
against our Tzar."
"Yes, Peter Feodorovitch told me so. What sort of war is this, and why
is it?"
"I cannot say exactly, Ivan Nikiforovitch, what the cause is. I
suppose the kings want us to adopt the Turkish faith."
"Fools! They would have it," said Ivan Nikiforovitch, raising his
"So, you see, our Tzar has declared war on them in consequence. 'No,'
says he, 'do you adopt the faith of Christ!'"
"Oh, our people will beat them, Ivan Ivanovitch!"
"They will. So you won't exchange the gun, Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
"It's a strange thing to me, Ivan Ivanovitch, that you, who seem to be
a man distinguished for sense, should talk such nonsense. What a fool
I should be!"
"Sit down, sit down. God be with it! let it burst! I won't mention it
At this moment lunch was brought in.
Ivan Ivanovitch drank a glass and ate a pie with sour cream. "Listen,
Ivan Nikiforovitch: I will give you, besides the sow, two sacks of
oats. You did not sow any oats. You'll have to buy some this year in
any case."
"By Heaven, Ivan Ivanovitch, I must tell you you are very foolish! Who
ever heard of swapping a gun for two sacks of oats? Never fear, you
don't offer your coat."
"But you forget, Ivan Nikiforovitch, that I am to give you the sow
"What! two sacks of oats and a sow for a gun?"
"Why, is it too little?"
"For a gun?"
"Of course, for a gun."
"Two sacks for a gun?"
"Two sacks, not empty, but filled with oats; and you've forgotten the
"Kiss your sow; and if you don't like that, then go to the Evil One!"
"Oh, get angry now, do! See here; they'll stick your tongue full of
red-hot needles in the other world for such godless words. After a
conversation with you, one has to wash one's face and hands and
fumigate one's self."
"Excuse me, Ivan Ivanovitch; my gun is a choice thing, a most curious
thing; and besides, it is a very agreeable decoration in a room."
"You go on like a fool about that gun of yours, Ivan Nikiforovitch,"
said Ivan Ivanovitch with vexation; for he was beginning to be really
"And you, Ivan Ivanovitch, are a regular goose!"
If Ivan Nikiforovitch had not uttered that word they would not have
quarrelled, but would have parted friends as usual; but now things
took quite another turn. Ivan Ivanovitch flew into a rage.
"What was that you said, Ivan Nikiforovitch?" he said, raising his
"I said you were like a goose, Ivan Ivanovitch!"
"How dare you, sir, forgetful of decency and the respect due to a
man's rank and family, insult him with such a disgraceful name!"
"What is there disgraceful about it? And why are you flourishing your
hands so, Ivan Ivanovitch?"
"How dared you, I repeat, in disregard of all decency, call me a
"I spit on your head, Ivan Ivanovitch! What are you screeching about?"
Ivan Ivanovitch could no longer control himself. His lips quivered;
his mouth lost its usual V shape, and became like the letter O; he
glared so that he was terrible to look at. This very rarely happened
with Ivan Ivanovitch: it was necessary that he should be extremely
angry at first.
"Then, I declare to you," exclaimed Ivan Ivanovitch, "that I will no
longer know you!"
"A great pity! By Heaven, I shall never weep on that account!"
retorted Ivan Nikiforovitch. He lied, by Heaven, he lied! for it was
very annoying to him.
"I will never put my foot inside your house gain!"
"Oho, ho!" said Ivan Nikiforovitch, vexed, yet not knowing himself
what to do, and rising to his feet, contrary to his custom. "Hey,
there, woman, boy!" Thereupon there appeared at the door the same fat
woman and the small boy, now enveloped in a long and wide coat. "Take
Ivan Ivanovitch by the arms and lead him to the door!"
"What! a nobleman?" shouted Ivan Ivanovitch with a feeling of vexation
and dignity. "Just do it if you dare! Come on! I'll annihilate you and
your stupid master. The crows won't be able to find your bones." Ivan
Ivanovitch spoke with uncommon force when his spirit was up.
The group presented a striking picture: Ivan Nikiforovitch standing in
the middle of the room; the woman with her mouth wide open and a
senseless, terrified look on her face, and Ivan Ivanovitch with
uplifted hand, as the Roman tribunes are depicted. This was a
magnificent spectacle: and yet there was but one spectator; the boy in
the ample coat, who stood quite quietly and picked his nose with his
Finally Ivan Ivanovitch took his hat. "You have behaved well, Ivan
Nikiforovitch, extremely well! I shall remember it."
"Go, Ivan Ivanovitch, go! and see that you don't come in my way: if
you do, I'll beat your ugly face to a jelly, Ivan Ivanovitch!"
"Take that, Ivan Nikiforovitch!" retorted Ivan Ivanovitch, making an
insulting gesture and banged the door, which squeaked and flew open
again behind him.
Ivan Nikiforovitch appeared at it and wanted to add something more;
but Ivan Ivanovitch did not glance back and hastened from the yard.
And thus two respectable men, the pride and honour of Mirgorod, had
quarrelled, and about what? About a bit of nonsense--a goose. They
would not see each other, broke off all connection, though hitherto
they had been known as the most inseparable friends. Every day Ivan
Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch had sent to inquire about each
other's health, and often conversed together from their balconies and
said such charming things as did the heart good to listen to. On
Sundays, Ivan Ivanovitch, in his lambskin pelisse, and Ivan
Nikiforovitch, in his cinnamon-coloured nankeen spencer, used to set
out for church almost arm in arm; and if Ivan Ivanovitch, who had
remarkably sharp eyes, was the first to catch sight of a puddle or any
dirt in the street, which sometimes happened in Mirgorod, he always
said to Ivan Nikiforovitch, "Look out! don't put your foot there, it's
dirty." Ivan Nikiforovitch, on his side, exhibited the same touching
tokens of friendship; and whenever he chanced to be standing, always
held out his hand to Ivan Ivanovitch with his snuff-box, saying: "Do
me the favour!" And what fine managers both were!-- And these two
friends!-- When I heard of it, it struck me like a flash of lightning.
For a long time I would not believe it. Ivan Ivanovitch quarrelling
with Ivan Nikiforovitch! Such worthy people! What is to be depended
upon, then, in this world?
When Ivan Ivanovitch reached home, he remained for some time in a
state of strong excitement. He usually went, first of all, to the
stable to see whether his mare was eating her hay; for he had a bay
mare with a white star on her forehead, and a very pretty little mare
she was too; then to feed the turkeys and the little pigs with his own
hand, and then to his room, where he either made wooden dishes, for he
could make various vessels of wood very tastefully, quite as well as
any turner, or read a book printed by Liubia, Garia, and Popoff (Ivan
Ivanovitch could never remember the name, because the serving-maid had
long before torn off the top part of the title-page while amusing the
children), or rested on the balcony. But now he did not betake himself
to any of his ordinary occupations. Instead, on encountering Gapka, he
at once began to scold her for loitering about without any occupation,
though she was carrying groats to the kitchen; flung a stick at a cock
which came upon the balcony for his customary treat; and when the
dirty little boy, in his little torn blouse, ran up to him and
shouted: "Papa, papa! give me a honey-cake," he threatened him and
stamped at him so fiercely that the frightened child fled, God knows
But at last he bethought himself, and began to busy himself about his
every-day duties. He dined late, and it was almost night when he lay
down to rest on the balcony. A good beet-soup with pigeons, which
Gapka had cooked for him, quite drove from his mind the occurrences of
the morning. Again Ivan Ivanovitch began to gaze at his belongings
with satisfaction. At length his eye rested on the neighbouring yard;
and he said to himself, "I have not been to Ivan Nikiforovitch's
to-day: I'll go there now." So saying, Ivan Ivanovitch took his stick
and his hat, and directed his steps to the street; but scarcely had he
passed through the gate than he recollected the quarrel, spit, and
turned back. Almost the same thing happened at Ivan Nikiforovitch's
house. Ivan Ivanovitch saw the woman put her foot on the fence, with
the intention of climbing over into his yard, when suddenly Ivan
Nikiforovitch's voice was heard crying: "Come back! it won't do!" But
Ivan Ivanovitch found it very tiresome. It is quite possible that
these worthy men would have made their peace next day if a certain
occurrence in Ivan Nikiforovitch's house had not destroyed all hopes
and poured oil upon the fire of enmity which was ready to die out.
On the evening of that very day, Agafya Fedosyevna arrived at Ivan
Nikiforovitch's. Agafya Fedosyevna was not Ivan Nikiforovitch's
relative, nor his sister-in-law, nor even his fellow-godparent. There
seemed to be no reason why she should come to him, and he was not
particularly glad of her company; still, she came, and lived on him
for weeks at a time, and even longer. Then she took possession of the
keys and took the management of the whole house into her own hands.
This was extremely displeasing to Ivan Nikiforovitch; but he, to his
amazement, obeyed her like a child; and although he occasionally
attempted to dispute, yet Agafya Fedosyevna always got the better of
I must confess that I do not understand why things are so arranged,
that women should seize us by the nose as deftly as they do the handle
of a teapot. Either their hands are so constructed or else our noses
are good for nothing else. And notwithstanding the fact that Ivan
Nikiforovitch's nose somewhat resembled a plum, she grasped that nose
and led him about after her like a dog. He even, in her presence,
involuntarily altered his ordinary manner of life.
Agafya Fedosyevna wore a cap on her head, and a coffee-coloured cloak
with yellow flowers and had three warts on her nose. Her figure was
like a cask, and it would have been as hard to tell where to look for
her waist as for her to see her nose without a mirror. Her feet were
small and shaped like two cushions. She talked scandal, ate boiled
beet-soup in the morning, and swore extremely; and amidst all these
various occupations her countenance never for one instant changed its
expression, which phenomenon, as a rule, women alone are capable of
As soon as she arrived, everything went wrong.
"Ivan Nikiforovitch, don't you make peace with him, nor ask his
forgiveness; he wants to ruin you; that's the kind of man he is! you
don't know him yet!" That cursed woman whispered and whispered, and
managed so that Ivan Nikiforovitch would not even hear Ivan Ivanovitch
Everything assumed another aspect. If his neighbour's dog ran into the
yard, it was beaten within an inch of its life; the children, who
climbed over the fence, were sent back with howls, their little shirts
stripped up, and marks of a switch behind. Even the old woman, when
Ivan Ivanovitch ventured to ask her about something, did something so
insulting that Ivan Ivanovitch, being an extremely delicate man, only
spit, and muttered, "What a nasty woman! even worse than her master!"
Finally, as a climax to all the insults, his hated neighbour built a
goose-shed right against his fence at the spot where they usually
climbed over, as if with the express intention of redoubling the
insult. This shed, so hateful to Ivan Ivanovitch, was constructed with
diabolical swiftness--in one day.
This aroused wrath and a desire for revenge in Ivan Ivanovitch. He
showed no signs of bitterness, in spite of the fact that the shed
encroached on his land; but his heart beat so violently that it was
extremely difficult for him to preserve his calm appearance.
He passed the day in this manner. Night came-- Oh, if I were a
painter, how magnificently I would depict the night's charms! I would
describe how all Mirgorod sleeps; how steadily the myriads of stars
gaze down upon it; how the apparent quiet is filled far and near with
the barking of dogs; how the love-sick sacristan steals past them, and
scales the fence with knightly fearlessness; how the white walls of
the houses, bathed in the moonlight, grow whiter still, the
overhanging trees darker; how the shadows of the trees fall blacker,
the flowers and the silent grass become more fragrant, and the
crickets, unharmonious cavaliers of the night, strike up their
rattling song in friendly fashion on all sides. I would describe how,
in one of the little, low-roofed, clay houses, the black-browed
village maid, tossing on her lonely couch, dreams with heaving bosom
of some hussar's spurs and moustache, and how the moonlight smiles
upon her cheeks. I would describe how the black shadows of the bats
flit along the white road before they alight upon the white chimneys
of the cottages.
But it would hardly be within my power to depict Ivan Ivanovitch as he
crept out that night, saw in hand; or the various emotions written on
his countenance! Quietly, most quietly, he crawled along and climbed
upon the goose-shed. Ivan Nikiforovitch's dogs knew nothing, as yet,
of the quarrel between them; and so they permitted him, as an old
friend, to enter the shed, which rested upon four oaken posts.
Creeping up to the nearest post he applied his saw and began to cut.
The noise produced by the saw caused him to glance about him every
moment, but the recollection of the insult restored his courage. The
first post was sawed through. Ivan Ivanovitch began upon the next. His
eyes burned and he saw nothing for terror.
All at once he uttered an exclamation and became petrified with fear.
A ghost appeared to him; but he speedily recovered himself on
perceiving that it was a goose, thrusting its neck out at him. Ivan
Ivanovitch spit with vexation and proceeded with his work. The second
post was sawed through; the building trembled. His heart beat so
violently when he began on the third, that he had to stop several
times. The post was more than half sawed through when the frail
building quivered violently.
Ivan Ivanovitch had barely time to spring back when it came down with
a crash. Seizing his saw, he ran home in the greatest terror and flung
himself upon his bed, without having sufficient courage to peep from
the window at the consequences of his terrible deed. It seemed to him
as though Ivan Nikiforovitch's entire household--the old woman, Ivan
Nikiforovitch, the boy in the endless coat, all with sticks, and led
by Agafya Fedosyevna--were coming to tear down and destroy his house.
Ivan Ivanovitch passed the whole of the following day in a perfect
fever. It seemed to him that his detested neighbour would set fire to
his house at least in revenge for this; and so he gave orders to Gapka
to keep a constant lookout, everywhere, and see whether dry straw
were laid against it anywhere. Finally, in order to forestall Ivan
Nikiforovitch, he determined to enter a complaint against him before
the district judge of Mirgorod. In what it consisted can be learned
from the following chapter.
A wonderful town is Mirgorod! How many buildings are there with straw,
rush, and even wooden roofs! On the right is a street, on the left a
street, and fine fences everywhere. Over them twine hop-vines, upon
them hang pots; from behind them the sunflowers show their sun-like
heads, poppies blush, fat pumpkins peep; all is luxury itself! The
fence is invariably garnished with articles which render it still more
picturesque: woman's widespread undergarments of checked woollen
stuff, shirts, or trousers. There is no such thing as theft or
rascality in Mirgorod, so everybody hangs upon his fence whatever
strikes his fancy. If you go on to the square, you will surely stop
and admire the view: such a wonderful pool is there! The finest you
ever saw. It occupies nearly the whole of the square. A truly
magnificent pool! The houses and cottages, which at a distance might
be mistaken for hayricks, stand around it, lost in admiration of its
But I agree with those who think that there is no better house than
that of the district judge. Whether it is of oak or birch is nothing
to the point; but it has, my dear sirs, eight windows! eight windows
in a row, looking directly on the square and upon that watery expanse
which I have just mentioned, and which the chief of police calls a
lake. It alone is painted the colour of granite. All the other houses
in Mirgorod are merely whitewashed. Its roof is of wood, and would
have been even painted red, had not the government clerks eaten the
oil which had been prepared for that purpose, as it happened during a
fast; and so the roof remained unpainted. Towards the square projects
a porch, which the chickens frequently visit, because that porch is
nearly always strewn with grain or something edible, not
intentionally, but through the carelessness of visitors.
The house is divided into two parts: one of which is the court-room;
the other the jail. In the half which contains the court-room are two
neat, whitewashed rooms, the front one for clients, the other having a
table adorned with ink-spots, and with a looking-glass upon it, and
four oak chairs with tall backs; whilst along the wall stand
iron-bound chests, in which are preserved bundles of papers relating
to district law-suits. Upon one of the chests stood at that time a
pair of boots, polished with wax.
The court had been open since morning. The judge, a rather stout man,
though thinner than Ivan Nikiforovitch, with a good-natured face, a
greasy dressing-gown, a pipe, and a cup of tea, was conversing with
the clerk of the court.
The judge's lips were directly under his nose, so that he could snuff
his upper lip as much as he liked. It served him instead of a
snuff-box, for the snuff intended for his nose almost always lodged
upon it. So the judge was talking with the assistant. A barefooted
girl stood holding a tray with cups at once side of them. At the end
of the table, the secretary was reading the decision in some case, but
in such a mournful and monotonous voice that the condemned man himself
would have fallen asleep while listening to it. The judge, no doubt,
would have been the first to do so had he not entered into an
engrossing conversation while it was going on.
"I expressly tried to find out," said the judge, sipping his already
cold tea from the cup, "how they manage to sing so well. I had a
splendid thrush two years ago. Well, all of a sudden he was completely
done for, and began to sing, God knows what! He got worse and worse
and worse and worse as time went on; he began to rattle and get
hoarse--just good for nothing! And this is how it happened: a little
lump, not so big as a pea, had come under his throat. It was only
necessary to prick that little swelling with a needle--Zachar
Prokofievitch taught me that; and, if you like, I'll just tell you how
it was. I went to him--"
"Shall I read another, Demyan Demyanovitch?" broke in the secretary,
who had not been reading for several minutes.
"Have you finished already? Only think how quickly! And I did not hear
a word of it! Where is it? Give it me and I'll sign it. What else have
you there?"
"The case of Cossack Bokitok for stealing a cow."
"Very good; read it!-- Yes, so I went to him--I can even tell you in
detail how he entertained me. There was vodka, and dried sturgeon,
excellent! Yes, not our sturgeon," there the judge smacked his tongue
and smiled, upon which his nose took a sniff at its usual snuff-box,
"such as our Mirgorod shops sell us. I ate no herrings, for, as you
know, they give me heart-burn; but I tasted the caviare--very fine
caviare, too! There's no doubt it, excellent! Then I drank some
peach-brandy, real gentian. There was saffron-brandy also; but, as you
know, I never take that. You see, it was all very good. In the first
place, to whet your appetite, as they say, and then to satisfy it--
Ah! speak of an angel," exclaimed the judge, all at once, catching
sight of Ivan Ivanovitch as he entered.
"God be with us! I wish you a good-morning," said Ivan Ivanovitch,
bowing all round with his usual politeness. How well he understood the
art of fascinating everybody in his manner! I never beheld such
refinement. He knew his own worth quite well, and therefore looked for
universal respect as his due. The judge himself handed Ivan Ivanovitch
a chair; and his nose inhaled all the snuff resting on his upper lip,
which, with him, was always a sign of great pleasure.
"What will you take, Ivan Ivanovitch?" he inquired: "will you have a
cup of tea?"
"No, much obliged," replied Ivan Ivanovitch, as he bowed and seated
"Do me the favour--one little cup," repeated the judge.
"No, thank you; much obliged for your hospitality," replied Ivan
Ivanovitch, and rose, bowed, and sat down again.
"Just one little cup," repeated the judge.
"No, do not trouble yourself, Demyan Demyanovitch." Whereupon Ivan
Ivanovitch again rose, bowed, and sat down.
"A little cup!"
"Very well, then, just a little cup," said Ivan Ivanovitch, and
reached out his hand to the tray. Heavens! What a height of refinement
there was in that man! It is impossible to describe what a pleasant
impression such manners produce!
"Will you not have another cup?"
"I thank you sincerely," answered Ivan Ivanovitch, turning his cup
upside down upon the tray and bowing.
"Do me the favour, Ivan Ivanovitch."
"I cannot; much obliged." Thereupon Ivan Ivanovitch bowed and sat
"Ivan Ivanovitch, for the sake of our friendship, just one little
"No: I am extremely indebted for your hospitality." So saying, Ivan
Ivanovitch bowed and seated himself.
"Only a cup, one little cup!"
Ivan Ivanovitch put his hand out to the tray and took a cup. Oh, the
deuce! How can a man contrive to support his dignity!
"Demyan Demyanovitch," said Ivan Ivanovitch, swallowing the last
drain, "I have pressing business with you; I want to enter a
Then Ivan Ivanovitch set down his cup, and drew from his pocket a
sheet of stamped paper, written over. "A complaint against my enemy,
my declared enemy."
"And who is that?"
"Ivan Nikiforovitch Dovgotchkun."
At these words, the judge nearly fell off his chair. "What do you
say?" he exclaimed, clasping his hands; "Ivan Ivanovitch, is this
"You see yourself that it is I."
"The Lord and all the saints be with you! What! You! Ivan Ivanovitch!
you have fallen out with Ivan Nikiforovitch! Is it your mouth which
says that? Repeat it! Is not some one hid behind you who is speaking
instead of you?"
"What is there incredible about it? I can't endure the sight of him:
he has done me a deadly injury--he has insulted my honour."
"Holy Trinity! How am I to believe my mother now? Why, every day, when
I quarrel with my sister, the old woman says, 'Children, you live
together like dogs. If you would only take pattern by Ivan Ivanovitch
and Ivan Nikiforovitch, they are friends indeed! such friends! such
worthy people!' There you are with your friend! Tell me what this is
about. How is it?"
"It is a delicate business, Demyan Demyanovitch; it is impossible to
relate it in words: be pleased rather to read my plaint. Here, take it
by this side; it is more convenient."
"Read it, Taras Tikhonovitch," said the judge, turning to the
Taras Tikhonovitch took the plaint; and blowing his nose, as all
district judges' secretaries blow their noses, with the assistance of
two fingers, he began to read:--
"From the nobleman and landed proprietor of the Mirgorod District,
Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, a plaint: concerning which the
following points are to be noted:--
"1. Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, nobleman, known to all the world
for his godless acts, which inspire disgust, and in lawlessness exceed
all bounds, on the seventh day of July of this year 1810, inflicted
upon me a deadly insult, touching my personal honour, and likewise
tending to the humiliation and confusion of my rank and family. The
said nobleman, of repulsive aspect, has also a pugnacious disposition,
and is full to overflowing with blasphemy and quarrelsome words."
Here the reader paused for an instant to blow his nose again; but the
judge folded his hands in approbation and murmured to himself, "What a
ready pen! Lord! how this man does write!"
Ivan Ivanovitch requested that the reading might proceed, and Taras
Tikhonovitch went on:--
"The said Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, when I went to him with a
friendly proposition, called me publicly by an epithet insulting and
injurious to my honour, namely, a goose, whereas it is known to the
whole district of Mirgorod, that I never was named after that
disgusting creature, and have no intention of ever being named after
it. The proof of my noble extraction is that, in the baptismal
register to be found in the Church of the Three Bishops, the day of my
birth, and likewise the fact of my baptism, are inscribed. But a
goose, as is well known to every one who has any knowledge of science,
cannot be inscribed in the baptismal register; for a goose is not a
man but a fowl; which, likewise, is sufficiently well known even to
persons who have not been to college. But the said evil-minded
nobleman, being privy to all these facts, affronted me with the
aforesaid foul word, for no other purpose than to offer a deadly
insult to my rank and station.
"2. And the same impolite and indecent nobleman, moreover, attempted
injury to my property, inherited by me from my father, a member of the
clerical profession, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Onisieff, of blessed
memory, inasmuch that he, contrary to all law, transported directly
opposite my porch a goose-shed, which was done with no other intention
that to emphasise the insult offered me; for the said shed had, up to
that time, stood in a very suitable situation, and was still
sufficiently strong. But the loathsome intention of the aforesaid
nobleman consisted simply in this: viz., in making me a witness of
unpleasant occurrences; for it is well known that no man goes into a
shed, much less into a goose-shed, for polite purposes. In the
execution of his lawless deed, the two front posts trespassed on my
land, received by me during the lifetime of my father, Ivan
Pererepenko, son of Onisieff, of blessed memory, beginning at the
granary, thence in a straight line to the spot where the women wash
the pots.
"3. The above-described nobleman, whose very name and surname inspire
thorough disgust, cherishes in his mind a malicious design to burn me
in my own house. Which the infallible signs, hereinafter mentioned,
fully demonstrate; in the first place, the said wicked nobleman has
begun to emerge frequently from his apartments, which he never did
formerly on account of his laziness and the disgusting corpulence of
his body; in the second place, in his servants' apartments, adjoining
the fence, surrounding my own land, received by me from my father of
blessed memory, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Onisieff, a light burns every
day, and for a remarkably long period of time, which is also a clear
proof of the fact. For hitherto, owing to his repulsive niggardliness,
not only the tallow-candle but also the grease-lamp has been
"And therefore I pray that the said nobleman, Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of
Nikifor, being plainly guilty of incendiarism, of insult to my rank,
name, and family, and of illegal appropriation of my property, and,
worse than all else, of malicious and deliberate addition to my
surname, of the nickname of goose, be condemned by the court, to fine,
satisfaction, costs, and damages, and, being chained, be removed to
the town jail, and that judgment be rendered upon this, my plaint,
immediately and without delay.
"Written and composed by Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, nobleman, and
landed proprietor of Mirgorod."
After the reading of the plaint was concluded, the judge approached
Ivanovitch, took him by the button, and began to talk to him after
this fashion: "What are you doing, Ivan Ivanovitch? Fear God! throw
away that plaint, let it go! may Satan carry it off! Better take Ivan
Nikiforovitch by the hand and kiss him, buy some Santurinski or
Nikopolski liquor, make a punch, and call me in. We will drink it up
together and forget all unpleasantness."
"No, Demyan Demyanovitch! it's not that sort of an affair," said Ivan
Ivanovitch, with the dignity which always became him so well; "it is
not an affair which can be arranged by a friendly agreement. Farewell!
Good-day to you, too, gentlemen," he continued with the same dignity,
turning to them all. "I hope that my plaint will lead to proper action
being taken;" and out he went, leaving all present in a state of
The judge sat down without uttering a word; the secretary took a pinch
of snuff; the clerks upset some broken fragments of bottles which
served for inkstands; and the judge himself, in absence of mind,
spread out a puddle of ink upon the table with his finger.
"What do you say to this, Dorofei Trofimovitch?" said the judge,
turning to the assistant after a pause.
"I've nothing to say," replied the clerk.
"What things do happen!" continued the judge. He had not finished
saying this before the door creaked and the front half of Ivan
Nikiforovitch presented itself in the court-room; the rest of him
remaining in the ante-room. The appearance of Ivan Nikiforovitch, and
in court too, seemed so extraordinary that the judge screamed; the
secretary stopped reading; one clerk, in his frieze imitation of a
dress-coat, took his pen in his lips; and the other swallowed a fly.
Even the constable on duty and the watchman, a discharged soldier who
up to that moment had stood by the door scratching about his dirty
tunic, with chevrons on its arm, dropped his jaw and trod on some
one's foot.
"What chance brings you here? How is your health, Ivan Nikiforovitch?"
But Ivan Nikiforovitch was neither dead nor alive; for he was stuck
fast in the door, and could not take a step either forwards or
backwards. In vain did the judge shout into the ante-room that some
one there should push Ivan Nikiforovitch forward into the court-room.
In the ante-room there was only one old woman with a petition, who, in
spite of all the efforts of her bony hands, could accomplish nothing.
Then one of the clerks, with thick lips, a thick nose, eyes which
looked askance and intoxicated, broad shoulders, and ragged elbows,
approached the front half of Ivan Nikiforovitch, crossed his hands for
him as though he had been a child, and winked at the old soldier, who
braced his knee against Ivan Nikiforovitch's belly, so, in spite of
the latter's piteous moans, he was squeezed out into the ante-room.
Then they pulled the bolts, and opened the other half of the door.
Meanwhile the clerk and his assistant, breathing hard with their
friendly exertions, exhaled such a strong odour that the court-room
seemed temporarily turned into a drinking-room.
"Are you hurt, Ivan Nikiforovitch? I will tell my mother to send you a
decoction of brandy, with which you need but to rub your back and
stomach and all your pains will disappear."
But Ivan Nikiforovitch dropped into a chair, and could utter no word
beyond prolonged oh's. Finally, in a faint and barely audible voice
from fatigue, he exclaimed, "Wouldn't you like some?" and drawing his
snuff-box from his pocket, added, "Help yourself, if you please."
"Very glad to see you," replied the judge; "but I cannot conceive what
made you put yourself to so much trouble, and favour us with so
unexpected an honour."
"A plaint!" Ivan Nikiforovitch managed to ejaculate.
"A plaint? What plaint?"
"A complaint . . ." here his asthma entailed a prolonged pause--"Oh! a
complaint against that rascal--Ivan Ivanovitch Pererepenko!"
"And you too! Such particular friends! A complaint against such a
benevolent man?"
"He's Satan himself!" ejaculated Ivan Nikiforovitch abruptly.
The judge crossed himself.
"Take my plaint, and read it."
"There is nothing to be done. Read it, Taras Tikhonovitch," said the
judge, turning to the secretary with an expression of displeasure,
which caused his nose to sniff at his upper lip, which generally
occurred only as a sign of great enjoyment. This independence on the
part of his nose caused the judge still greater vexation. He pulled
out his handkerchief, and rubbed off all the snuff from his upper lip
in order to punish it for its daring.
The secretary, having gone through the usual performance, which he
always indulged in before he began to read, that is to say, blowing
his nose without the aid of a pocket-handkerchief, began in his
ordinary voice, in the following manner:--
"Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, nobleman of the Mirgorod District,
presents a plaint, and begs to call attention to the following
"1. Through his hateful malice and plainly manifested ill-will, the
person calling himself a nobleman, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan,
perpetrates against me every manner of injury, damage, and like
spiteful deeds, which inspire me with terror. Yesterday afternoon,
like a brigand and thief, with axes, saws, chisels, and various
locksmith's tools, he came by night into my yard and into my own
goose-shed located within it, and with his own hand, and in outrageous
manner, destroyed it; for which very illegal and burglarious deed on
my side I gave no manner of cause.
"2. The same nobleman Pererepenko has designs upon my life; and on the
7th of last month, cherishing this design in secret, he came to me,
and began, in a friendly and insidious manner, to ask of me a gun
which was in my chamber, and offered me for it, with the miserliness
peculiar to him, many worthless objects, such as a brown sow and two
sacks of oats. Divining at that time his criminal intentions, I
endeavoured in every way to dissuade him from it: but the said rascal
and scoundrel, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, abused me like a muzhik,
and since that time has cherished against me an irreconcilable enmity.
His sister was well known to every one as a loose character, and went
off with a regiment of chasseurs which was stationed at Mirgorod five
years ago; but she inscribed her husband as a peasant. His father and
mother too were not law-abiding people, and both were inconceivable
drunkards. The afore-mentioned nobleman and robber, Pererepenko, in
his beastly and blameworthy actions, goes beyond all his family, and
under the guise of piety does the most immoral things. He does not
observe the fasts; for on the eve of St. Philip's this atheist bought
a sheep, and next day ordered his mistress, Gapka, to kill it,
alleging that he needed tallow for lamps and candles at once.
"Therefore I pray that the said nobleman, a manifest robber,
church-thief, and rascal, convicted of plundering and stealing, may be
put in irons, and confined in the jail or the government prison, and
there, under supervision, deprived of his rank and nobility, well
flogged, and banished to forced labour in Siberia, and that he may be
commanded to pay damages and costs, and that judgment may be rendered
on this my petition.
"To this plaint, Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, noble of the
Mirgorod district, has set his hand."
As soon as the secretary had finished reading, Ivan Nikiforovitch
seized his hat and bowed, with the intention of departing.
"Where are you going, Ivan Nikiforovitch?" the judge called after him.
"Sit down a little while. Have some tea. Orishko, why are you standing
there, you stupid girl, winking at the clerks? Go, bring tea."
But Ivan Nikiforovitch, in terror at having got so far from home, and
at having undergone such a fearful quarantine, made haste to crawl
through the door, saying, "Don't trouble yourself. It is with pleasure
that I--" and closed it after him, leaving all present stupefied.
There was nothing to be done. Both plaints were entered; and the
affair promised to assume a sufficiently serious aspect when an
unforeseen occurrence lent an added interest to it. As the judge was
leaving the court in company with the clerk and secretary, and the
employees were thrusting into sacks the fowls, eggs, loaves, pies,
cracknels, and other odds and ends brought by the plaintiffs--just at
that moment a brown sow rushed into the room and snatched, to the
amazement of the spectators, neither a pie nor a crust of bread but
Ivan Nikiforovitch's plaint, which lay at the end of the table with
its leaves hanging over. Having seized the document, mistress sow ran
off so briskly that not one of the clerks or officials could catch
her, in spite of the rulers and ink-bottles they hurled after her.
This extraordinary occurrence produced a terrible muddle, for there
had not even been a copy taken of the plaint. The judge, that is to
say, his secretary and the assistant debated for a long time upon such
an unheard-of affair. Finally it was decided to write a report of the
matter to the governor, as the investigation of the matter pertained
more to the department of the city police. Report No. 389 was
despatched to him that same day; and also upon that day there came to
light a sufficiently curious explanation, which the reader may learn
from the following chapter.
As soon as Ivan Ivanovitch had arranged his domestic affairs and
stepped out upon the balcony, according to his custom, to lie down, he
saw, to his indescribable amazement, something red at the gate. This
was the red facings of the chief of police's coat, which were polished
equally with his collar, and resembled varnished leather on the edges.
Ivan Ivanovitch thought to himself, "It's not bad that Peter
Feodorovitch has come to talk it over with me." But he was very much
surprised to see that the chief was walking remarkably fast and
flourishing his hands, which was very rarely the case with him. There
were eight buttons on the chief of police's uniform: the ninth, torn
off in some manner during the procession at the consecration of the
church two years before, the police had not been able to find up to
this time: although the chief, on the occasion of the daily reports
made to him by the sergeants, always asked, "Has that button been
found?" These eight buttons were strewn about him as women sow
beans--one to the right and one to the left. His left foot had been
struck by a ball in the last campaign, and so he limped and threw it
out so far to one side as to almost counteract the efforts of the
right foot. The more briskly the chief of police worked his walking
apparatus the less progress he made in advance. So while he was
getting to the balcony, Ivan Ivanovitch had plenty of time to lose
himself in surmises as to why the chief was flourishing his hands so
vigorously. This interested him the more, as the matter seemed one of
unusual importance; for the chief had on a new dagger.
"Good morning, Peter Feodorovitch!" cried Ivan Ivanovitch, who was, as
has already been stated, exceedingly curious, and could not restrain
his impatience as the chief of police began to ascend to the balcony,
yet never raised his eyes, and kept grumbling at his foot, which could
not be persuaded to mount the step at the first attempt.
"I wish my good friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, a good-day,"
replied the chief.
"Pray sit down. I see that you are weary, as your lame foot hinders--"
"My foot!" screamed the chief, bestowing upon Ivan Ivanovitch a glance
such as a giant might cast upon a pigmy, a pedant upon a
dancing-master: and he stretched out his foot and stamped upon the
floor with it. This boldness cost him dear; for his whole body wavered
and his nose struck the railing; but the brave preserver of order,
with the purpose of making light of it, righted himself immediately,
and began to feel in his pocket as if to get his snuff-box. "I must
report to you, my dear friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, that
never in all my days have I made such a march. Yes, seriously. For
instance, during the campaign of 1807-- Ah! I will tell to you how I
crawled through the enclosure to see a pretty little German." Here the
chief closed one eye and executed a diabolically sly smile.
"Where have you been to-day?" asked Ivan Ivanovitch, wishing to cut
the chief short and bring him more speedily to the object of his
visit. He would have very much liked to inquire what the chief meant
to tell him, but his extensive knowledge of the world showed him the
impropriety of such a question; and so he had to keep himself well in
hand and await a solution, his heart, meanwhile, beating with unusual
"Ah, excuse me! I was going to tell you--where was I?" answered the
chief of police. "In the first place, I report that the weather is
fine to-day."
At these last words, Ivan Ivanovitch nearly died.
"But permit me," went on the chief. "I have come to you to-day about a
very important affair." Here the chief's face and bearing assumed the
same careworn aspect with which he had ascended to the balcony.
Ivan Ivanovitch breathed again, and shook as if in a fever, omitting
not, as was his habit, to put a question. "What is the important
matter? Is it important?"
"Pray judge for yourself; in the first place I venture to report to
you, dear friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, that you-- I beg you
to observe that, for my own part, I should have nothing to say; but
the rules of government require it--that you have transgressed the
rules of propriety."
"What do you mean, Peter Feodorovitch? I don't understand at all."
"Pardon me, Ivan Ivanovitch! how can it be that you do not understand?
Your own beast has destroyed an important government document; and you
can still say, after that, that you do not understand!"
"What beast?"
"Your own brown sow, with your permission, be it said."
"How can I be responsible? Why did the door-keeper of the court open
the door?"
"But, Ivan Ivanovitch, your own brown sow. You must be responsible."
"I am extremely obliged to you for comparing me to a sow."
"But I did not say that, Ivan Ivanovitch! By Heaven! I did not say so!
Pray judge from your own clear conscience. It is known to you without
doubt, that in accordance with the views of the government, unclean
animals are forbidden to roam about the town, particularly in the
principal streets. Admit, now, that it is prohibited."
"God knows what you are talking about! A mighty important business
that a sow got into the street!"
"Permit me to inform you, Ivan Ivanovitch, permit me, permit me, that
this is utterly inadvisable. What is to be done? The authorities
command, we must obey. I don't deny that sometimes chickens and geese
run about the street, and even about the square, pray observe,
chickens and geese; but only last year, I gave orders that pigs and
goats were not to be admitted to the public squares, which regulations
I directed to be read aloud at the time before all the people."
"No, Peter Feodorovitch, I see nothing here except that you are doing
your best to insult me."
"But you cannot say that, my dearest friend and benefactor, that I
have tried to insult you. Bethink yourself: I never said a word to you
last year when you built a roof a whole foot higher than is allowed by
law. On the contrary, I pretended not to have observed it. Believe me,
my dearest friend, even now, I would, so to speak--but my duty--in a
word, my duty demands that I should have an eye to cleanliness. Just
judge for yourself, when suddenly in the principal street--"
"Fine principal streets yours are! Every woman goes there and throws
down any rubbish she chooses."
"Permit me to inform you, Ivan Ivanovitch, that it is you who are
insulting me. That does sometimes happen, but, as a rule, only besides
fences, sheds, or storehouses; but that a filthy sow should intrude
herself in the main street, in the square, now is a matter--"
"What sort of a matter? Peter Feodorovitch! surely a sow is one of
God's creatures!"
"Agreed. Everybody knows that you are a learned man, that you are
acquainted with sciences and various other subjects. I never studied
the sciences: I began to learn to write in my thirteenth year. Of
course you know that I was a soldier in the ranks."
"Hm!" said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Yes," continued the chief of police, "in 1801 I was in the
Forty-second Regiment of chasseurs, lieutenant in the fourth company.
The commander of our company was, if I may be permitted to mention it,
Captain Eremeeff." Thereupon the chief of police thrust his fingers
into the snuff-box which Ivan Ivanovitch was holding open, and stirred
up the snuff.
Ivan Ivanovitch answered, "Hm!"
"But my duty," went on the chief of police, "is to obey the commands
of the authorities. Do you know, Ivan Ivanovitch, that a person who
purloins a government document in the court-room incurs capital
punishment equally with other criminals?"
"I know it; and, if you like, I can give you lessons. It is so decreed
with regard to people, as if you, for instance, were to steal a
document; but a sow is an animal, one of God's creatures."
"Certainly; but the law reads, 'Those guilty of theft'--I beg of you
to listen most attentively--'Those guilty!' Here is indicated neither
race nor sex nor rank: of course an animal can be guilty. You may say
what you please; but the animal, until the sentence is pronounced by
the court, should be committed to the charge of the police as a
transgressor of the law."
"No, Peter Feodorovitch," retorted Ivan Ivanovitch coolly, "that shall
not be."
"As you like: only I must carry out the orders of the authorities."
"What are you threatening me with? Probably you want to send that
one-armed soldier after her. I shall order the woman who tends the
door to drive him off with the poker: he'll get his last arm broken."
"I dare not dispute with you. In case you will not commit the sow to
the charge of the police, then do what you please with her: kill her
for Christmas, if you like, and make hams of her, or eat her as she
is. Only I should like to ask you, in case you make sausages, to send
me a couple, such as your Gapka makes so well, of blood and lard. My
Agrafena Trofimovna is extremely fond of them."
"I will send you a couple of sausages if you permit."
"I shall be extremely obliged to you, dear friend and benefactor. Now
permit me to say one word more. I am commissioned by the judge, as
well as by all our acquaintances, so to speak, to effect a
reconciliation between you and your friend, Ivan Nikiforovitch."
"What! with that brute! I to be reconciled to that clown! Never! It
shall not be, it shall not be!" Ivan Ivanovitch was in a remarkably
determined frame of mind.
"As you like," replied the chief of police, treating both nostrils to
snuff. "I will not venture to advise you; but permit me to
mention--here you live at enmity, and if you make peace. . ."
But Ivan Ivanovitch began to talk about catching quail, as he usually
did when he wanted to put an end to a conversation. So the chief of
police was obliged to retire without having achieved any success
In spite of all the judge's efforts to keep the matter secret, all
Mirgorod knew by the next day that Ivan Ivanovitch's sow had stolen
Ivan Nikiforovitch's petition. The chief of police himself, in a
moment of forgetfulness, was the first to betray himself. When Ivan
Nikiforovitch was informed of it he said nothing: he merely inquired,
"Was it the brown one?"
But Agafya Fedosyevna, who was present, began again to urge on Ivan
Nikiforovitch. "What's the matter with you, Ivan Nikiforovitch? People
will laugh at you as at a fool if you let it pass. How can you remain
a nobleman after that? You will be worse than the old woman who sells
the honeycakes with hemp-seed oil you are so fond of."
And the mischief-maker persuaded him. She hunted up somewhere a
middle-aged man with dark complexion, spots all over his face, and a
dark-blue surtout patched on the elbows, a regular official scribbler.
He blacked his boots with tar, wore three pens behind his ear, and a
glass vial tied to his buttonhole with a string instead of an
ink-bottle: ate as many as nine pies at once, and put the tenth in his
pocket, and wrote so many slanders of all sorts on a single sheet of
stamped paper that no reader could get through all at one time without
interspersing coughs and sneezes. This man laboured, toiled, and
wrote, and finally concocted the following document:-
"To the District Judge of Mirgorod, from the noble, Ivan Dovgotchkun,
son of Nikifor.
"In pursuance of my plaint which was presented by me, Ivan
Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, against the nobleman, Ivan Pererepenko,
son of Ivan, to which the judge of the Mirgorod district court has
exhibited indifference; and the shameless, high-handed deed of the
brown sow being kept secret, and coming to my ears from outside
"And the said neglect, plainly malicious, lies incontestably at the
judge's door; for the sow is a stupid animal, and therefore unfitted
for the theft of papers. From which it plainly appears that the said
frequently mentioned sow was not otherwise than instigated to the same
by the opponent, Ivan Pererepenko, son of Ivan, calling himself a
nobleman, and already convicted of theft, conspiracy against life, and
desecration of a church. But the said Mirgorod judge, with the
partisanship peculiar to him, gave his private consent to this
individual; for without such consent the said sow could by no possible
means have been admitted to carry off the document; for the judge of
the district court of Mirgorod is well provided with servants: it was
only necessary to summon a soldier, who is always on duty in the
reception-room, and who, although he has but one eye and one somewhat
damaged arm, has powers quite adequate to driving out a sow, and to
beating it with a stick, from which is credibly evident the criminal
neglect of the said Mirgorod judge and the incontestable sharing of
the Jew-like spoils therefrom resulting from these mutual
conspirators. And the aforesaid robber and nobleman, Ivan Pererepenko,
son of Ivan, having disgraced himself, finished his turning on his
lathe. Wherefore, I, the noble Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor,
declare to the said district judge in proper form that if the said
brown sow, or the man Pererepenko, be not summoned to the court, and
judgment in accordance with justice and my advantage pronounced upon
her, then I, Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, shall present a plaint,
with observance of all due formalities, against the said district
judge for his illegal partisanship to the superior courts.
"Ivan Dovgotchkun, son of Nikifor, noble of the Mirgorod District."
This petition produced its effect. The judge was a man of timid
disposition, as all good people generally are. He betook himself to
the secretary. But the secretary emitted from his lips a thick "Hm,"
and exhibited on his countenance that indifferent and diabolically
equivocal expression which Satan alone assumes when he sees his victim
hastening to his feet. One resource remained to him, to reconcile the
two friends. But how to set about it, when all attempts up to that
time had been so unsuccessful? Nevertheless, it was decided to make
another effort; but Ivan Ivanovitch declared outright that he would
not hear of it, and even flew into a violent passion; whilst Ivan
Nikiforovitch, in lieu of an answer, turned his back and would not
utter a word.
Then the case went on with the unusual promptness upon which courts
usually pride themselves. Documents were dated, labelled, numbered,
sewed together, registered all in one day, and the matter laid on the
shelf, where it continued to lie, for one, two, or three years. Many
brides were married; a new street was laid out in Mirgorod; one of the
judge's double teeth fell out and two of his eye-teeth; more children
than ever ran about Ivan Ivanovitch's yard; Ivan Nikiforovitch, as a
reproof to Ivan Ivanovitch, constructed a new goose-shed, although a
little farther back than the first, and built himself completely off
from his neighbour, so that these worthy people hardly ever beheld
each other's faces; but still the case lay in the cabinet, which had
become marbled with ink-pots.
In the meantime a very important event for all Mirgorod had taken
place. The chief of police had given a reception. Whence shall I
obtain the brush and colours to depict this varied gathering and
magnificent feast? Take your watch, open it, and look what is going on
inside. A fearful confusion, is it not? Now, imagine almost the same,
if not a greater, number of wheels standing in the chief of police's
courtyard. How many carriages and waggons were there! One was wide
behind and narrow in front; another narrow behind and wide in front.
One was a carriage and a waggon combined; another neither a carriage
nor a waggon. One resembled a huge hayrick or a fat merchant's wife;
another a dilapidated Jew or a skeleton not quite freed from the skin.
One was a perfect pipe with long stem in profile; another, resembling
nothing whatever, suggested some strange, shapeless, fantastic object.
In the midst of this chaos of wheels rose coaches with windows like
those of a room. The drivers, in grey Cossack coats, gaberdines, and
white hare-skin coats, sheepskin hats and caps of various patterns,
and with pipes in their hands, drove the unharnessed horses through
the yard.
What a reception the chief of police gave! Permit me to run through
the list of those who were there: Taras Tarasovitch, Evpl Akinfovitch,
Evtikhiy Evtikhievitch, Ivan Ivanovitch--not that Ivan Ivanovitch but
another--Gabba Bavrilonovitch, our Ivan Ivanovitch, Elevferiy
Elevferievitch, Makar Nazarevitch, Thoma Grigorovitch--I can say no
more: my powers fail me, my hand stops writing. And how many ladies
were there! dark and fair, tall and short, some fat like Ivan
Nikiforovitch, and some so thin that it seemed as though each one
might hide herself in the scabbard of the chief's sword. What
head-dresses! what costumes! red, yellow, coffee-colour, green, blue,
new, turned, re-made dresses, ribbons, reticules. Farewell, poor eyes!
you will never be good for anything any more after such a spectacle.
And how long the table was drawn out! and how all talked! and what a
noise they made! What is a mill with its driving-wheel, stones, beams,
hammers, wheels, in comparison with this? I cannot tell you exactly
what they talked about, but presumably of many agreeable and useful
things, such as the weather, dogs, wheat, caps, and dice. At length
Ivan Ivanovitch--not our Ivan Ivanovitch, but the other, who had but
one eye--said, "It strikes me as strange that my right eye," this
one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch always spoke sarcastically about himself,
"does not see Ivan Nikiforovitch, Gospodin Dovgotchkun."
"He would not come," said the chief of police.
"Why not?"
"It's two years now, glory to God! since they quarrelled; that is,
Ivan Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch; and where one goes, the other
will not go."
"You don't say so!" Thereupon one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch raised his eye
and clasped his hands. "Well, if people with good eyes cannot live in
peace, how am I to live amicably, with my bad one?"
At these words they all laughed at the tops of their voices. Every one
liked one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch, because he cracked jokes in that
style. A tall, thin man in a frieze coat, with a plaster on his nose,
who up to this time had sat in the corner, and never once altered the
expression of his face, even when a fly lighted on his nose, rose from
his seat, and approached nearer to the crowd which surrounded one-eyed
Ivan Ivanovitch. "Listen," said Ivan Ivanovitch, when he perceived
that quite a throng had collected about him; "suppose we make peace
between our friends. Ivan Ivanovitch is talking with the women and
girls; let us send quietly for Ivan Nikiforovitch and bring them
Ivan Ivanovitch's proposal was unanimously agreed to; and it was
decided to send at once to Ivan Nikiforovitch's house, and beg him, at
any rate, to come to the chief of police's for dinner. But the
difficult question as to who was to be intrusted with this weighty
commission rendered all thoughtful. They debated long as to who was
the most expert in diplomatic matters. At length it was unanimously
agreed to depute Anton Prokofievitch to do this business.
But it is necessary, first of all, to make the reader somewhat
acquainted with this noteworthy person. Anton Prokofievitch was a
truly good man, in the fullest meaning of the term. If any one in
Mirgorod gave him a neckerchief or underclothes, he returned thanks;
if any one gave him a fillip on the nose, he returned thanks too. If
he was asked, "Why, Anton Prokofievitch, do you wear a light brown
coat with blue sleeves?" he generally replied, "Ah, you haven't one
like it! Wait a bit, it will soon fade and will be alike all over."
And, in point of fact, the blue cloth, from the effects of the sun,
began to turn cinnamon colour, and became of the same tint as the rest
of the coat. But the strange part of it was that Anton Prokofievitch
had a habit of wearing woollen clothing in summer and nankeen in
Anton Prokofievitch had no house of his own. He used to have one on
the outskirts of the town; but he sold it, and with the purchase-money
bought a team of brown horses and a little carriage in which he drove
about to stay with the squires. But as the horses were a deal of
trouble and money was required for oats, Anton Prokofievitch bartered
them for a violin and a housemaid, with twenty-five paper rubles to
boot. Afterwards Anton Prokofievitch sold the violin, and exchanged
the girl for a morocco and gold tobacco-pouch; now he has such a
tobacco-pouch as no one else has. As a result of this luxury, he can
no longer go about among the country houses, but has to remain in the
town and pass the night at different houses, especially of those
gentlemen who take pleasure in tapping him on the nose. Anton
Prokofievitch is very fond of good eating, and plays a good game at
cards. Obeying orders always was his forte; so, taking his hat and
cane, he set out at once on his errand.
But, as he walked along, he began to ponder in what manner he should
contrive to induce Ivan Nikiforovitch to come to the assembly. The
unbending character of the latter, who was otherwise a worthy man,
rendered the undertaking almost hopeless. How, indeed, was he to
persuade him to come, when even rising from his bed cost him so great
an effort? But supposing that he did rise, how could he get him to
come, where, as he doubtless knew, his irreconcilable enemy already
was? The more Anton Prokofievitch reflected, the more difficulties he
perceived. The day was sultry, the sun beat down, the perspiration
poured from him in streams. Anton Prokofievitch was a tolerably sharp
man in many respects though they did tap him on the nose. In
bartering, however, he was not fortunate. He knew very well when to
play the fool, and sometimes contrived to turn things to his own
profit amid circumstances and surroundings from which a wise man could
rarely escape without loss.
His ingenious mind had contrived a means of persuading Ivan
Nikiforovitch; and he was proceeding bravely to face everything when
an unexpected occurrence somewhat disturbed his equanimity. There is
no harm, at this point, in admitting to the reader that, among other
things, Anton Prokofievitch was the owner of a pair of trousers of
such singular properties that whenever he put them on the dogs always
bit his calves. Unfortunately, he had donned this particular pair of
trousers; and he had hardly given himself up to meditation before a
fearful barking on all sides saluted his ears. Anton Prokofievitch
raised such a yell, no one could scream louder than he, that not only
did the well-known woman and the occupant of the endless coat rush out
to meet him, but even the small boys from Ivan Ivanovitch's yard. But
although the dogs succeeded in tasting only one of his calves, this
sensibility diminished his courage, and he entered the porch with a
certain amount of timidity.
"Ah! how do you do? Why do you irritate the dogs?" said Ivan
Nikiforovitch, on perceiving Anton Prokofievitch; for no one spoke
otherwise than jestingly with Anton Prokofievitch.
"Hang them! who's been irritating them?" retorted Anton Prokofievitch.
"You have!"
"By Heavens, no! You are invited to dinner by Peter Feodorovitch."
"He invited you in a more pressing manner than I can tell you. 'Why,'
says he, 'does Ivan Nikiforovitch shun me like an enemy? He never
comes round to have a chat, or make a call.'"
Ivan Nikiforovitch stroked his beard.
"'If,' says he, 'Ivan Nikiforovitch does not come now, I shall not
know what to think: surely, he must have some design against me. Pray,
Anton Prokofievitch, persuade Ivan Nikiforovitch!' Come, Ivan
Nikiforovitch, let us go! a very choice company is already met there."
Ivan Nikiforovitch began to look at a cock, which was perched on the
roof, crowing with all its might.
"If you only knew, Ivan Nikiforovitch," pursued the zealous
ambassador, "what fresh sturgeon and caviare Peter Feodorovitch has
had sent to him!" Whereupon Ivan Nikiforovitch turned his head and
began to listen attentively. This encouraged the messenger. "Come
quickly: Thoma Grigorovitch is there too. Why don't you come?" he
added, seeing that Ivan Nikiforovitch still lay in the same position.
"Shall we go, or not?"
"I won't!"
This "I won't" startled Anton Prokofievitch. He had fancied that his
alluring representations had quite moved this very worthy man; but
instead, he heard that decisive "I won't."
"Why won't you?" he asked, with a vexation which he very rarely
exhibited, even when they put burning paper on his head, a trick which
the judge and the chief of police were particularly fond of indulging
Ivan Nikiforovitch took a pinch of snuff.
"Just as you like, Ivan Nikiforovitch. I do not know what detains
"Why don't I go?" said Ivan Nikiforovitch at length: "because that
brigand will be there!" This was his ordinary way of alluding to Ivan
Ivanovitch. "Just God! and is it long?"
"He will not be there, he will not be there! May the lightning kill me
on the spot!" returned Anton Prokofievitch, who was ready to perjure
himself ten times in an hour. "Come along, Ivan Nikiforovitch!"
"You lie, Anton Prokofievitch! he is there!"
"By Heaven, by Heaven, he's not! May I never stir from this place if
he's there! Now, just think for yourself, what object have I in lying?
May my hands and feet wither!-- What, don't you believe me now? May I
perish right here in your presence! Don't you believe me yet?"
Ivan Nikiforovitch was entirely reassured by these asseverations, and
ordered his valet, in the boundless coat, to fetch his trousers and
nankeen spencer.
To describe how Ivan Nikiforovitch put on his trousers, how they wound
his neckerchief about his neck, and finally dragged on his spencer,
which burst under the left sleeve, would be quite superfluous. Suffice
it to say, that during the whole of the time he preserved a becoming
calmness of demeanour, and answered not a word to Anton
Prokofievitch's proposition to exchange something for his Turkish
Meanwhile, the assembly awaited with impatience the decisive moment
when Ivan Nikiforovitch should make his appearance and at length
comply with the general desire that these worthy people should be
reconciled to each other. Many were almost convinced that Ivan
Nikiforovitch would not come. Even the chief of police offered to bet
with one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch that he would not come; and only
desisted when one-eyed Ivan Ivanovitch demanded that he should wager
his lame foot against his own bad eye, at which the chief of police
was greatly offended, and the company enjoyed a quiet laugh. No one
had yet sat down to the table, although it was long past two o'clock,
an hour before which in Mirgorod, even on ceremonial occasions, every
one had already dined.
No sooner did Anton Prokofievitch show himself in the doorway, then he
was instantly surrounded. Anton Prokofievitch, in answer to all
inquiries, shouted the all-decisive words, "He will not come!" No
sooner had he uttered them than a hailstorm of reproaches, scoldings,
and, possibly, even fillips were about to descend upon his head for
the ill success of his mission, when all at once the door opened,
and--Ivan Nikiforovitch entered.
If Satan himself or a corpse had appeared, it would not have caused
such consternation amongst the company as Ivan Nikiforovitch's
unexpected arrival created. But Anton Prokofievitch only went off into
a fit of laughter, and held his sides with delight at having played
such a joke upon the company.
At all events, it was almost past the belief of all that Ivan
Nikiforovitch could, in so brief a space of time, have attired himself
like a respectable gentleman. Ivan Ivanovitch was not there at the
moment: he had stepped out somewhere. Recovering from their amazement,
the guests expressed an interest in Ivan Nikiforovitch's health, and
their pleasure at his increase in breadth. Ivan Nikiforovitch kissed
every one, and said, "Very much obliged!"
Meantime, the fragrance of the beet-soup was wafted through the
apartment, and tickled the nostrils of the hungry guests very
agreeably. All rushed headlong to table. The line of ladies,
loquacious and silent, thin and stout, swept on, and the long table
soon glittered with all the hues of the rainbow. I will not describe
the courses: I will make no mention of the curd dumplings with sour
cream, nor of the dish of pig's fry that was served with the soup, nor
of the turkey with plums and raisins, nor of the dish which greatly
resembled in appearance a boot soaked in kvas, nor of the sauce, which
is the swan's song of the old-fashioned cook, nor of that other dish
which was brought in all enveloped in the flames of spirit, and amused
as well as frightened the ladies extremely. I will say nothing of
these dishes, because I like to eat them better than to spend many
words in discussing them.
Ivan Ivanovitch was exceedingly pleased with the fish dressed with
horse-radish. He devoted himself especially to this useful and
nourishing preparation. Picking out all the fine bones from the fish,
he laid them on his plate; and happening to glance across the
table--Heavenly Creator; but this was strange! Opposite him sat Ivan
At the very same instant Ivan Nikiforovitch glanced up also-- No, I
can do no more-- Give me a fresh pen with a fine point for this
picture! mine is flabby. Their faces seemed to turn to stone whilst
still retaining their defiant expression. Each beheld a long familiar
face, to which it should have seemed the most natural of things to
step up, involuntarily, as to an unexpected friend, and offer a
snuff-box, with the words, "Do me the favour," or "Dare I beg you to
do me the favour?" Instead of this, that face was terrible as a
forerunner of evil. The perspiration poured in streams from Ivan
Ivanovitch and Ivan Nikiforovitch.
All the guests at the table grew dumb with attention, and never once
took their eyes off the former friends. The ladies, who had been busy
up to that time on a sufficiently interesting discussion as to the
preparation of capons, suddenly cut their conversation short. All was
silence. It was a picture worthy of the brush of a great artist.
At length Ivan Ivanovitch pulled out his handkerchief and began to
blow his nose; whilst Ivan Nikiforovitch glanced about and his eye
rested on the open door. The chief of police at once perceived this
movement, and ordered the door to be fastened. Then both of the
friends began to eat, and never once glanced at each other again.
As soon as dinner was over, the two former friends both rose from
their seats, and began to look for their hats, with a view to
departure. Then the chief beckoned; and Ivan Ivanovitch--not our Ivan
Ivanovitch, but the other with the one eye--got behind Ivan
Nikiforovitch, and the chief stepped behind Ivan Ivanovitch, and the
two began to drag them backwards, in order to bring them together, and
not release them till they had shaken hands with each other. Ivan
Ivanovitch, the one-eyed, pushed Ivan Nikiforovitch, with tolerable
success, towards the spot where stood Ivan Ivanovitch. But the chief
of police directed his course too much to one side, because he could
not steer himself with his refractory leg, which obeyed no orders
whatever on this occasion, and, as if with malice and aforethought,
swung itself uncommonly far, and in quite the contrary direction,
possibly from the fact that there had been an unusual amount of fruit
wine after dinner, so that Ivan Ivanovitch fell over a lady in a red
gown, who had thrust herself into the very midst, out of curiosity.
Such an omen forboded no good. Nevertheless, the judge, in order to
set things to rights, took the chief of police's place, and, sweeping
all the snuff from his upper lip with his nose, pushed Ivan Ivanovitch
in the opposite direction. In Mirgorod this is the usual manner of
effecting a reconciliation: it somewhat resembles a game of ball. As
soon as the judge pushed Ivan Ivanovitch, Ivan Ivanovitch with the one
eye exerted all his strength, and pushed Ivan Nikiforovitch, from whom
the perspiration streamed like rain-water from a roof. In spite of the
fact that the friends resisted to the best of their ability, they were
nevertheless brought together, for the two chief movers received
reinforcements from the ranks of their guests.
Then they were closely surrounded on all sides, not to be released
until they had decided to give one another their hands. "God be with
you, Ivan Nikiforovitch and Ivan Ivanovitch! declare upon your honour
now, that what you quarrelled about were mere trifles, were they not?
Are you not ashamed of yourselves before people and before God?"
"I do not know," said Ivan Nikiforovitch, panting with fatigue, though
it is to be observed that he was not at all disinclined to a
reconciliation, "I do not know what I did to Ivan Ivanovitch; but why
did he destroy my coop and plot against my life?"
"I am innocent of any evil designs!" said Ivan Ivanovitch, never
looking at Ivan Nikiforovitch. "I swear before God and before you,
honourable noblemen, I did nothing to my enemy! Why does he calumniate
me and insult my rank and family?"
"How have I insulted you, Ivan Ivanovitch?" said Ivan Nikiforovitch.
One moment more of explanation, and the long enmity would have been
extinguished. Ivan Nikiforovitch was already feeling in his pocket for
his snuff-box, and was about to say, "Do me the favour."
"Is it not an insult," answered Ivan Ivanovitch, without raising his
eyes, "when you, my dear sir, insulted my honour and my family with a
word which it is improper to repeat here?"
"Permit me to observe, in a friendly manner, Ivan Ivanovitch," here
Ivan Nikiforovitch touched Ivan Ivanovitch's button with his finger,
which clearly indicated the disposition of his mind, "that you took
offence, the deuce only knows at what, because I called you a
It occurred to Ivan Nikiforovitch that he had made a mistake in
uttering that word; but it was too late: the word was said. Everything
went to the winds. It, on the utterance of this word without
witnesses, Ivan Ivanovitch lost control of himself and flew into such
a passion as God preserve us from beholding any man in, what was to be
expected now? I put it to you, dear readers, what was to be expected
now, when the fatal word was uttered in an assemblage of persons among
whom were ladies, in whose presence Ivan Ivanovitch liked to be
particularly polite? If Ivan Nikiforovitch had set to work in any
other manner, if he had only said bird and not goose, it might still
have been arranged, but all was at an end.
He gave one look at Ivan Nikiforovitch, but such a look! If that look
had possessed active power, then it would have turned Ivan
Nikiforovitch into dust. The guests understood the look and hastened
to separate them. And this man, the very model of gentleness, who
never let a single poor woman go by without interrogating her, rushed
out in a fearful rage. Such violent storms do passions produce!
For a whole month nothing was heard of Ivan Ivanovitch. He shut
himself up at home. His ancestral chest was opened, and from it were
taken silver rubles, his grandfather's old silver rubles! And these
rubles passed into the ink-stained hands of legal advisers. The case
was sent up to the higher court; and when Ivan Ivanovitch received the
joyful news that it would be decided on the morrow, then only did he
look out upon the world and resolve to emerge from his house. Alas!
from that time forth the council gave notice day by day that the case
would be finished on the morrow, for the space of ten years.
Five years ago, I passed through the town of Mirgorod. I came at a bad
time. It was autumn, with its damp, melancholy weather, mud and mists.
An unnatural verdure, the result of incessant rains, covered with a
watery network the fields and meadows, to which it is as well suited
as youthful pranks to an old man, or roses to an old woman. The
weather made a deep impression on me at the time: when it was dull, I
was dull; but in spite of this, when I came to pass through Mirgorod,
my heart beat violently. God, what reminiscences! I had not seen
Mirgorod for twenty years. Here had lived, in touching friendship, two
inseparable friends. And how many prominent people had died! Judge
Demyan Demyanovitch was already gone: Ivan Ivanovitch, with the one
eye, had long ceased to live.
I entered the main street. All about stood poles with bundles of straw
on top: some alterations were in progress. Several dwellings had been
removed. The remnants of board and wattled fences projected sadly here
and there. It was a festival day. I ordered my basket chaise to stop
in front of the church, and entered softly that no one might turn
round. To tell the truth, there was no need of this: the church was
almost empty; there were very few people; it was evident that even the
most pious feared the mud. The candles seemed strangely unpleasant in
that gloomy, or rather sickly, light. The dim vestibule was
melancholy; the long windows, with their circular panes, were bedewed
with tears of rain. I retired into the vestibule, and addressing a
respectable old man, with greyish hair, said, "May I inquire if Ivan
Nikiforovitch is still living?"
At that moment the lamp before the holy picture burned up more
brightly and the light fell directly upon the face of my companion.
What was my surprise, on looking more closely, to behold features with
which I was acquainted! It was Ivan Nikiforovitch himself! But how he
had changed!
"Are you well, Ivan Nikiforovitch? How old you have grown!"
"Yes, I have grown old. I have just come from Poltava to-day,"
answered Ivan Nikiforovitch.
"You don't say so! you have been to Poltava in such bad weather?"
"What was to be done? that lawsuit--"
At this I sighed involuntarily.
Ivan Nikiforovitch observed my sigh, and said, "Do not be troubled: I
have reliable information that the case will be decided next week, and
in my favour."
I shrugged my shoulders, and went to seek news of Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Ivan Ivanovitch is here," some one said to me, "in the choir."
I saw a gaunt form. Was that Ivan Ivanovitch? His face was covered
with wrinkles, his hair was perfectly white; but the pelisse was the
same as ever. After the first greetings were over, Ivan Ivanovitch,
turning to me with a joyful smile which always became his
funnel-shaped face, said, "Have you been told the good news?"
"What news?" I inquired.
"My case is to be decided to-morrow without fail: the court has
announced it decisively."
I sighed more deeply than before, made haste to take my leave, for I
was bound on very important business, and seated myself in my kibitka.
The lean nags known in Mirgorod as post-horses started, producing with
their hoofs, which were buried in a grey mass of mud, a sound very
displeasing to the ear. The rain poured in torrents upon the Jew
seated on the box, covered with a rug. The dampness penetrated through
and through me. The gloomy barrier with a sentry-box, in which an old
soldier was repairing his weapons, was passed slowly. Again the same
fields, in some places black where they had been dug up, in others of
a greenish hue; wet daws and crows; monotonous rain; a tearful sky,
without one gleam of light! . . . It is gloomy in this world,
Nowhere did so many people pause as before the little picture-shop in
the Shtchukinui Dvor. This little shop contained, indeed, the most
varied collection of curiosities. The pictures were chiefly
oil-paintings covered with dark varnish, in frames of dingy yellow.
Winter scenes with white trees; very red sunsets, like raging
conflagrations, a Flemish boor, more like a turkey-cock in cuffs than
a human being, were the prevailing subjects. To these must be added a
few engravings, such as a portrait of Khozreff-Mirza in a sheepskin
cap, and some generals with three-cornered hats and hooked noses.
Moreover, the doors of such shops are usually festooned with bundles
of those publications, printed on large sheets of bark, and then
coloured by hand, which bear witness to the native talent of the
On one was the Tzarevna Miliktrisa Kirbitievna; on another the city of
Jerusalem. There are usually but few purchasers of these productions,
but gazers are many. Some truant lackey probably yawns in front of
them, holding in his hand the dishes containing dinner from the
cook-shop for his master, who will not get his soup very hot. Before
them, too, will most likely be standing a soldier wrapped in his
cloak, a dealer from the old-clothes mart, with a couple of penknives
for sale, and a huckstress, with a basketful of shoes. Each expresses
admiration in his own way. The muzhiks generally touch them with their
fingers; the dealers gaze seriously at them; serving boys and
apprentices laugh, and tease each other with the coloured caricatures;
old lackeys in frieze cloaks look at them merely for the sake of
yawning away their time somewhere; and the hucksters, young Russian
women, halt by instinct to hear what people are gossiping about, and
to see what they are looking at.
At the time our story opens, the young painter, Tchartkoff, paused
involuntarily as he passed the shop. His old cloak and plain attire
showed him to be a man who was devoted to his art with self-denying
zeal, and who had no time to trouble himself about his clothes. He
halted in front of the little shop, and at first enjoyed an inward
laugh over the monstrosities in the shape of pictures.
At length he sank unconsciously into a reverie, and began to ponder as
to what sort of people wanted these productions? It did not seem
remarkable to him that the Russian populace should gaze with rapture
upon "Eruslanoff Lazarevitch," on "The Glutton" and "The Carouser," on
"Thoma and Erema." The delineations of these subjects were easily
intelligible to the masses. But where were there purchases for those
streaky, dirty oil-paintings? Who needed those Flemish boors, those
red and blue landscapes, which put forth some claims to a higher stage
of art, but which really expressed the depths of its degradation? They
did not appear the works of a self-taught child. In that case, in
spite of the caricature of drawing, a sharp distinction would have
manifested itself. But here were visible only simple dullness,
steady-going incapacity, which stood, through self-will, in the ranks
of art, while its true place was among the lowest trades. The same
colours, the same manner, the same practised hand, belonging rather to
a manufacturing automaton than to a man!
He stood before the dirty pictures for some time, his thoughts at
length wandering to other matters. Meanwhile the proprietor of the
shop, a little grey man, in a frieze cloak, with a beard which had not
been shaved since Sunday, had been urging him to buy for some time,
naming prices, without even knowing what pleased him or what he
wanted. "Here, I'll take a silver piece for these peasants and this
little landscape. What painting! it fairly dazzles one; only just
received from the factory; the varnish isn't dry yet. Or here is a
winter scene--take the winter scene; fifteen rubles; the frame alone
is worth it. What a winter scene!" Here the merchant gave a slight
fillip to the canvas, as if to demonstrate all the merits of the
winter scene. "Pray have them put up and sent to your house. Where do
you live? Here, boy, give me some string!"
"Hold, not so fast!" said the painter, coming to himself, and
perceiving that the brisk dealer was beginning in earnest to pack some
pictures up. He was rather ashamed not to take anything after standing
so long in front of the shop; so saying, "Here, stop! I will see if
there is anything I want here!" he stooped and began to pick up from
the floor, where they were thrown in a heap, some worn, dusty old
paintings. There were old family portraits, whose descendants,
probably could not be found on earth; with torn canvas and frames
minus their gilding; in short, trash. But the painter began his
search, thinking to himself, "Perhaps I may come across something." He
had heard stories about pictures of the great masters having been
found among the rubbish in cheap print-sellers' shops.
The dealer, perceiving what he was about, ceased his importunities,
and took up his post again at the door, hailing the passers-by with,
"Hither, friends, here are pictures; step in, step in; just received
from the makers!" He shouted his fill, and generally in vain, had a
long talk with a rag-merchant, standing opposite, at the door of his
shop; and finally, recollecting that he had a customer in his shop,
turned his back on the public and went inside. "Well, friend, have you
chosen anything?" said he. But the painter had already been standing
motionless for some time before a portrait in a large and originally
magnificent frame, upon which, however, hardly a trace of gilding now
It represented an old man, with a thin, bronzed face and high
cheek-bones; the features seemingly depicted in a moment of convulsive
agitation. He wore a flowing Asiatic costume. Dusty and defaced as the
portrait was, Tchartkoff saw, when he had succeeded in removing the
dirt from the face, traces of the work of a great artist. The portrait
appeared to be unfinished, but the power of the handling was striking.
The eyes were the most remarkable picture of all: it seemed as though
the full power of the artist's brush had been lavished upon them. They
fairly gazed out of the portrait, destroying its harmony with their
strange liveliness. When he carried the portrait to the door, the eyes
gleamed even more penetratingly. They produced nearly the same
impression on the public. A woman standing behind him exclaimed, "He
is looking, he is looking!" and jumped back. Tchartkoff experienced an
unpleasant feeling, inexplicable even to himself, and placed the
portrait on the floor.
"Well, will you take the portrait?" said the dealer.
"How much is it?" said the painter.
"Why chaffer over it? give me seventy-five kopeks."
"Well, how much will you give?"
"Twenty kopeks," said the painter, preparing to go.
"What a price! Why, you couldn't buy the frame for that! Perhaps you
will decide to purchase to-morrow. Sir, sir, turn back! Add ten
kopeks. Take it, take it! give me twenty kopeks. To tell the truth,
you are my only customer to-day, and that's the only reason."
Thus Tchartkoff quite unexpectedly became the purchaser of the old
portrait, and at the same time reflected, "Why have I bought it? What
is it to me?" But there was nothing to be done. He pulled a
twenty-kopek piece from his pocket, gave it to the merchant, took the
portrait under his arm, and carried it home. On the way thither, he
remembered that the twenty-kopek piece he had given for it was his
last. His thoughts at once became gloomy. Vexation and careless
indifference took possession of him at one and the same moment. The
red light of sunset still lingered in one half the sky; the houses
facing that way still gleamed with its warm light; and meanwhile the
cold blue light of the moon grew brighter. Light, half-transparent
shadows fell in bands upon the ground. The painter began by degrees to
glance up at the sky, flushed with a transparent light; and at the
same moment from his mouth fell the words, "What a delicate tone! What
a nuisance! Deuce take it!" Re-adjusting the portrait, which kept
slipping from under his arm, he quickened his pace.
Weary and bathed in perspiration, he dragged himself to Vasilievsky
Ostroff. With difficulty and much panting he made his way up the
stairs flooded with soap-suds, and adorned with the tracks of dogs and
cats. To his knock there was no answer: there was no one at home. He
leaned against the window, and disposed himself to wait patiently,
until at last there resounded behind him the footsteps of a boy in a
blue blouse, his servant, model, and colour-grinder. This boy was
called Nikita, and spent all his time in the streets when his master
was not at home. Nikita tried for a long time to get the key into the
lock, which was quite invisible, by reason of the darkness.
Finally the door was opened. Tchartkoff entered his ante-room, which
was intolerably cold, as painters' rooms always are, which fact,
however, they do not notice. Without giving Nikita his coat, he went
on into his studio, a large room, but low, fitted up with all sorts of
artistic rubbish--plaster hands, canvases, sketches begun and
discarded, and draperies thrown over chairs. Feeling very tired, he
took off his cloak, placed the portrait abstractedly between two small
canvasses, and threw himself on the narrow divan. Having stretched
himself out, he finally called for a light.
"There are no candles," said Nikita.
"What, none?"
"And there were none last night," said Nikita. The artist recollected
that, in fact, there had been no candles the previous evening, and
became silent. He let Nikita take his coat off, and put on his old
worn dressing-gown.
"There has been a gentleman here," said Nikita.
"Yes, he came for money, I know," said the painter, waving his hand.
"He was not alone," said Nikita.
"Who else was with him?"
"I don't know, some police officer or other."
"But why a police officer?"
"I don't know why, but he says because your rent is not paid."
"Well, what will come of it?"
"I don't know what will come of it: he said, 'If he won't pay, why,
let him leave the rooms.' They are both coming again to-morrow."
"Let them come," said Tchartkoff, with indifference; and a gloomy mood
took full possession of him.
Young Tchartkoff was an artist of talent, which promised great things:
his work gave evidence of observation, thought, and a strong
inclination to approach nearer to nature.
"Look here, my friend," his professor said to him more than once, "you
have talent; it will be a shame if you waste it: but you are
impatient; you have but to be attracted by anything, to fall in love
with it, you become engrossed with it, and all else goes for nothing,
and you won't even look at it. See to it that you do not become a
fashionable artist. At present your colouring begins to assert itself
too loudly; and your drawing is at times quite weak; you are already
striving after the fashionable style, because it strikes the eye at
once. Have a care! society already begins to have its attraction for
you: I have seen you with a shiny hat, a foppish neckerchief. . . . It
is seductive to paint fashionable little pictures and portraits for
money; but talent is ruined, not developed, by that means. Be patient;
think out every piece of work, discard your foppishness; let others
amass money, your own will not fail you."
The professor was partly right. Our artist sometimes wanted to enjoy
himself, to play the fop, in short, to give vent to his youthful
impulses in some way or other; but he could control himself withal. At
times he would forget everything, when he had once taken his brush in
his hand, and could not tear himself from it except as from a
delightful dream. His taste perceptibly developed. He did not as yet
understand all the depths of Raphael, but he was attracted by Guido's
broad and rapid handling, he paused before Titian's portraits, he
delighted in the Flemish masters. The dark veil enshrouding the
ancient pictures had not yet wholly passed away from before them; but
he already saw something in them, though in private he did not agree
with the professor that the secrets of the old masters are
irremediably lost to us. It seemed to him that the nineteenth century
had improved upon them considerably, that the delineation of nature
was more clear, more vivid, more close. It sometimes vexed him when he
saw how a strange artist, French or German, sometimes not even a
painter by profession, but only a skilful dauber, produced, by the
celerity of his brush and the vividness of his colouring, a universal
commotion, and amassed in a twinkling a funded capital. This did not
occur to him when fully occupied with his own work, for then he forgot
food and drink and all the world. But when dire want arrived, when he
had no money wherewith to buy brushes and colours, when his implacable
landlord came ten times a day to demand the rent for his rooms, then
did the luck of the wealthy artists recur to his hungry imagination;
then did the thought which so often traverses Russian minds, to give
up altogether, and go down hill, utterly to the bad, traverse his. And
now he was almost in this frame of mind.
"Yes, it is all very well, to be patient, be patient!" he exclaimed,
with vexation; "but there is an end to patience at last. Be patient!
but what money have I to buy a dinner with to-morrow? No one will lend
me any. If I did bring myself to sell all my pictures and sketches,
they would not give me twenty kopeks for the whole of them. They are
useful; I feel that not one of them has been undertaken in vain; I
have learned something from each one. Yes, but of what use is it?
Studies, sketches, all will be studies, trial-sketches to the end. And
who will buy, not even knowing me by name? Who wants drawings from the
antique, or the life class, or my unfinished love of a Psyche, or the
interior of my room, or the portrait of Nikita, though it is better,
to tell the truth, than the portraits by any of the fashionable
artists? Why do I worry, and toil like a learner over the alphabet,
when I might shine as brightly as the rest, and have money, too, like
Thus speaking, the artist suddenly shuddered, and turned pale. A
convulsively distorted face gazed at him, peeping forth from the
surrounding canvas; two terrible eyes were fixed straight upon him; on
the mouth was written a menacing command of silence. Alarmed, he tried
to scream and summon Nikita, who already was snoring in the ante-room;
but he suddenly paused and laughed. The sensation of fear died away in
a moment; it was the portrait he had bought, and which he had quite
forgotten. The light of the moon illuminating the chamber had fallen
upon it, and lent it a strange likeness to life.
He began to examine it. He moistened a sponge with water, passed it
over the picture several times, washed off nearly all the accumulated
and incrusted dust and dirt, hung it on the wall before him, wondering
yet more at the remarkable workmanship. The whole face had gained new
life, and the eyes gazed at him so that he shuddered; and, springing
back, he exclaimed in a voice of surprise: "It looks with human eyes!"
Then suddenly there occurred to him a story he had heard long before
from his professor, of a certain portrait by the renowned Leonardo da
Vinci, upon which the great master laboured several years, and still
regarded as incomplete, but which, according to Vasari, was
nevertheless deemed by all the most complete and finished product of
his art. The most finished thing about it was the eyes, which amazed
his contemporaries; the very smallest, barely visible veins in them
being reproduced on the canvas.
But in the portrait now before him there was something singular. It
was no longer art; it even destroyed the harmony of the portrait; they
were living, human eyes! It seemed as though they had been cut from a
living man and inserted. Here was none of that high enjoyment which
takes possession of the soul at the sight of an artist's production,
no matter how terrible the subject he may have chosen.
Again he approached the portrait, in order to observe those wondrous
eyes, and perceived, with terror, that they were gazing at him. This
was no copy from Nature; it was life, the strange life which might
have lighted up the face of a dead man, risen from the grave. Whether
it was the effect of the moonlight, which brought with it fantastic
thoughts, and transformed things into strange likenesses, opposed to
those of matter-of-fact day, or from some other cause, but it suddenly
became terrible to him, he knew not why, to sit alone in the room. He
draw back from the portrait, turned aside, and tried not to look at
it; but his eye involuntarily, of its own accord, kept glancing
sideways towards it. Finally, he became afraid to walk about the room.
It seemed as though some one were on the point of stepping up behind
him; and every time he turned, he glanced timidly back. He had never
been a coward; but his imagination and nerves were sensitive, and that
evening he could not explain his involuntary fear. He seated himself
in one corner, but even then it seemed to him that some one was
peeping over his shoulder into his face. Even Nikita's snores,
resounding from the ante-room, did not chase away his fear. At length
he rose from the seat, without raising his eyes, went behind a screen,
and lay down on his bed. Through the cracks of the screen he saw his
room lit up by the moon, and the portrait hanging stiffly on the wall.
The eyes were fixed upon him in a yet more terrible and significant
manner, and it seemed as if they would not look at anything but
himself. Overpowered with a feeling of oppression, he decided to rise
from his bed, seized a sheet, and, approaching the portrait, covered
it up completely.
Having done this, he lay done more at ease on his bed, and began to
meditate upon the poverty and pitiful lot of the artist, and the
thorny path lying before him in the world. But meanwhile his eye
glanced involuntarily through the joint of the screen at the portrait
muffled in the sheet. The light of the moon heightened the whiteness
of the sheet, and it seemed to him as though those terrible eyes shone
through the cloth. With terror he fixed his eyes more steadfastly on
the spot, as if wishing to convince himself that it was all nonsense.
But at length he saw--saw clearly; there was no longer a sheet--the
portrait was quite uncovered, and was gazing beyond everything around
it, straight at him; gazing as it seemed fairly into his heart. His
heart grew cold. He watched anxiously; the old man moved, and
suddenly, supporting himself on the frame with both arms, raised
himself by his hands, and, putting forth both feet, leapt out of the
frame. Through the crack of the screen, the empty frame alone was now
visible. Footsteps resounded through the room, and approached nearer
and nearer to the screen. The poor artist's heart began beating fast.
He expected every moment, his breath failing for fear, that the old
man would look round the screen at him. And lo! he did look from
behind the screen, with the very same bronzed face, and with his big
eyes roving about.
Tchartkoff tried to scream, and felt that his voice was gone; he tried
to move; his limbs refused their office. With open mouth, and failing
breath, he gazed at the tall phantom, draped in some kind of a flowing
Asiatic robe, and waited for what it would do. The old man sat down
almost on his very feet, and then pulled out something from among the
folds of his wide garment. It was a purse. The old man untied it, took
it by the end, and shook it. Heavy rolls of coin fell out with a dull
thud upon the floor. Each was wrapped in blue paper, and on each was
marked, "1000 ducats." The old man protruded his long, bony hand from
his wide sleeves, and began to undo the rolls. The gold glittered.
Great as was the artist's unreasoning fear, he concentrated all his
attention upon the gold, gazing motionless, as it made its appearance
in the bony hands, gleamed, rang lightly or dully, and was wrapped up
again. Then he perceived one packet which had rolled farther than the
rest, to the very leg of his bedstead, near his pillow. He grasped it
almost convulsively, and glanced in fear at the old man to see whether
he noticed it.
But the old man appeared very much occupied: he collected all his
rolls, replaced them in the purse, and went outside the screen without
looking at him. Tchartkoff's heart beat wildly as he heard the rustle
of the retreating footsteps sounding through the room. He clasped the
roll of coin more closely in his hand, quivering in every limb.
Suddenly he heard the footsteps approaching the screen again.
Apparently the old man had recollected that one roll was missing. Lo!
again he looked round the screen at him. The artist in despair grasped
the roll with all his strength, tried with all his power to make a
movement, shrieked--and awoke.
He was bathed in a cold perspiration; his heart beat as hard as it was
possible for it to beat; his chest was oppressed, as though his last
breath was about to issue from it. "Was it a dream?" he said, seizing
his head with both hands. But the terrible reality of the apparition
did not resemble a dream. As he woke, he saw the old man step into the
frame: the skirts of the flowing garment even fluttered, and his hand
felt plainly that a moment before it had held something heavy. The
moonlight lit up the room, bringing out from the dark corners here a
canvas, there the model of a hand: a drapery thrown over a chair;
trousers and dirty boots. Then he perceived that he was not lying in
his bed, but standing upright in front of the portrait. How he had
come there, he could not in the least comprehend. Still more surprised
was he to find the portrait uncovered, and with actually no sheet over
it. Motionless with terror, he gazed at it, and perceived that the
living, human eyes were fastened upon him. A cold perspiration broke
out upon his forehead. He wanted to move away, but felt that his feet
had in some way become rooted to the earth. And he felt that this was
not a dream. The old man's features moved, and his lips began to
project towards him, as though he wanted to suck him in. With a yell
of despair he jumped back--and awoke.
"Was it a dream?" With his heart throbbing to bursting, he felt about
him with both hands. Yes, he was lying in bed, and in precisely the
position in which he had fallen asleep. Before him stood the screen.
The moonlight flooded the room. Through the crack of the screen, the
portrait was visible, covered with the sheet, as it should be, just as
he had covered it. And so that, too, was a dream? But his clenched
fist still felt as though something had been held in it. The throbbing
of his heart was violent, almost terrible; the weight upon his breast
intolerable. He fixed his eyes upon the crack, and stared steadfastly
at the sheet. And lo! he saw plainly the sheet begin to open, as
though hands were pushing from underneath, and trying to throw it off.
"Lord God, what is it!" he shrieked, crossing himself in despair--and
And was this, too, a dream? He sprang from his bed, half-mad, and
could not comprehend what had happened to him. Was it the oppression
of a nightmare, the raving of fever, or an actual apparition? Striving
to calm, as far as possible, his mental tumult, and stay the wildly
rushing blood, which beat with straining pulses in every vein, he went
to the window and opened it. The cool breeze revived him. The
moonlight lay on the roofs and the white walls of the houses, though
small clouds passed frequently across the sky. All was still: from
time to time there struck the ear the distant rumble of a carriage. He
put his head out of the window, and gazed for some time. Already the
signs of approaching dawn were spreading over the sky. At last he felt
drowsy, shut to the window, stepped back, lay down in bed, and quickly
fell, like one exhausted, into a deep sleep.
He awoke late, and with the disagreeable feeling of a man who has been
half-suffocated with coal-gas: his head ached painfully. The room was
dim: an unpleasant moisture pervaded the air, and penetrated the
cracks of his windows. Dissatisfied and depressed as a wet cock, he
seated himself on his dilapidated divan, not knowing what to do, what
to set about, and at length remembered the whole of his dream. As he
recalled it, the dream presented itself to his mind as so oppressively
real that he even began to wonder whether it were a dream, whether
there were not something more here, whether it were not really an
apparition. Removing the sheet, he looked at the terrible portrait by
the light of day. The eyes were really striking in their liveliness,
but he found nothing particularly terrible about them, though an
indescribably unpleasant feeling lingered in his mind. Nevertheless,
he could not quite convince himself that it was a dream. It struck him
that there must have been some terrible fragment of reality in the
vision. It seemed as though there were something in the old man's very
glance and expression which said that he had been with him that night:
his hand still felt the weight which had so recently lain in it as if
some one had but just snatched it from him. It seemed to him that, if
he had only grasped the roll more firmly, it would have remained in
his hand, even after his awakening.
"My God, if I only had a portion of that money!" he said, breathing
heavily; and in his fancy, all the rolls of coin, with their
fascinating inscription, "1000 ducats," began to pour out of the
purse. The rolls opened, the gold glittered, and was wrapped up again;
and he sat motionless, with his eyes fixed on the empty air, as if he
were incapable of tearing himself from such a sight, like a child who
sits before a plate of sweets, and beholds, with watering mouth, other
people devouring them.
At last there came a knock on the door, which recalled him
unpleasantly to himself. The landlord entered with the constable of
the district, whose presence is even more disagreeable to poor people
than is the presence of a beggar to the rich. The landlord of the
little house in which Tchartkoff lived resembled the other individuals
who own houses anywhere in the Vasilievsky Ostroff, on the St.
Petersburg side, or in the distant regions of Kolomna--individuals
whose character is as difficult to define as the colour of a
threadbare surtout. In his youth he had been a captain and a braggart,
a master in the art of flogging, skilful, foppish, and stupid; but in
his old age he combined all these various qualities into a kind of dim
indefiniteness. He was a widower, already on the retired list, no
longer boasted, nor was dandified, nor quarrelled, but only cared to
drink tea and talk all sorts of nonsense over it. He walked about his
room, and arranged the ends of the tallow candles; called punctually
at the end of each month upon his lodgers for money; went out into the
street, with the key in his hand, to look at the roof of his house,
and sometimes chased the porter out of his den, where he had hidden
himself to sleep. In short, he was a man on the retired list, who,
after the turmoils and wildness of his life, had only his
old-fashioned habits left.
"Please to see for yourself, Varukh Kusmitch," said the landlord,
turning to the officer, and throwing out his hands, "this man does not
pay his rent, he does not pay."
"How can I when I have no money? Wait, and I will pay."
"I can't wait, my good fellow," said the landlord angrily, making a
gesture with the key which he held in his hand. "Lieutenant-Colonel
Potogonkin has lived with me seven years, seven years already; Anna
Petrovna Buchmisteroff rents the coach-house and stable, with the
exception of two stalls, and has three household servants: that is the
kind of lodgers I have. I say to you frankly, that this is not an
establishment where people do not pay their rent. Pay your money at
once, please, or else clear out."
"Yes, if you rented the rooms, please to pay," said the constable,
with a slight shake of the head, as he laid his finger on one of the
buttons of his uniform.
"Well, what am I to pay with? that's the question. I haven't a
groschen just at present."
"In that case, satisfy the claims of Ivan Ivanovitch with the fruits
of your profession," said the officer: "perhaps he will consent to
take pictures."
"No, thank you, my good fellow, no pictures. Pictures of holy
subjects, such as one could hang upon the walls, would be well enough;
or some general with a star, or Prince Kutusoff's portrait. But this
fellow has painted that muzhik, that muzhik in his blouse, his servant
who grinds his colours! The idea of painting his portrait, the hog!
I'll thrash him well: he took all the nails out of my bolts, the
scoundrel! Just see what subjects! Here he has drawn his room. It
would have been well enough had he taken a clean, well-furnished room;
but he has gone and drawn this one, with all the dirt and rubbish he
has collected. Just see how he has defaced my room! Look for yourself.
Yes, and my lodgers have been with me seven years, the
lieutenant-colonel, Anna Petrovna Buchmisteroff. No, I tell you, there
is no worse lodger than a painter: he lives like a pig--God have
The poor artist had to listen patiently to all this. Meanwhile the
officer had occupied himself with examining the pictures and studies,
and showed that his mind was more advanced than the landlord's, and
that he was not insensible to artistic impressions.
"Heh!" said he, tapping one canvas, on which was depicted a naked
woman, "this subject is--lively. But why so much black under her nose?
did she take snuff?"
"Shadow," answered Tchartkoff gruffly, without looking at him.
"But it might have been put in some other place: it is too conspicuous
under the nose," observed the officer. "And whose likeness is this?"
he continued, approaching the old man's portrait. "It is too terrible.
Was he really so dreadful? Ah! why, he actually looks at one! What a
thunder-cloud! From whom did you paint it?"
"Ah! it is from a--" said Tchartkoff, but did not finish his sentence:
he heard a crack. It seems that the officer had pressed too hard on
the frame of the portrait, thanks to the weight of his constable's
hands. The small boards at the side caved in, one fell on the floor,
and with it fell, with a heavy crash, a roll of blue paper. The
inscription caught Tchartkoff's eye--"1000 ducats." Like a madman, he
sprang to pick it up, grasped the roll, and gripped it convulsively in
his hand, which sank with the weight.
"Wasn't there a sound of money?" inquired the officer, hearing the
noise of something falling on the floor, and not catching sight of it,
owing to the rapidity with which Tchartkoff had hastened to pick it
"What business is it of yours what is in my room?"
"It's my business because you ought to pay your rent to the landlord
at once; because you have money, and won't pay, that's why it's my
"Well, I will pay him to-day."
"Well, and why wouldn't you pay before, instead of giving trouble to
your landlord, and bothering the police to boot?"
"Because I did not want to touch this money. I will pay him in full
this evening, and leave the rooms to-morrow. I will not stay with such
a landlord."
"Well, Ivan Ivanovitch, he will pay you," said the constable, turning
to the landlord. "But in case you are not satisfied in every respect
this evening, then you must excuse me, Mr. Painter." So saying, he put
on his three-cornered hat, and went into the ante-room, followed by
the landlord hanging his head, and apparently engaged in meditation.
"Thank God, Satan has carried them off!" said Tchartkoff, as he heard
the outer door of the ante-room close. He looked out into the
ante-room, sent Nikita off on some errand, in order to be quite alone,
fastened the door behind him, and, returning to his room, began with
wildly beating heart to undo the roll.
In it were ducats, all new, and bright as fire. Almost beside himself,
he sat down beside the pile of gold, still asking himself, "Is not
this all a dream?" There were just a thousand in the roll, the
exterior of which was precisely like what he had seen in his dream. He
turned them over, and looked at them for some minutes. His imagination
recalled up all the tales he had heard of hidden hoards, cabinets with
secret drawers, left by ancestors for their spendthrift descendants,
with firm belief in the extravagance of their life. He pondered this:
"Did not some grandfather, in the present instance, leave a gift for
his grandchild, shut up in the frame of a family portrait?" Filled
with romantic fancies, he began to think whether this had not some
secret connection with his fate? whether the existence of the portrait
was not bound up with his own, and whether his acquisition of it was
not due to a kind of predestination?
He began to examine the frame with curiosity. On one side a cavity was
hollowed out, but concealed so skilfully and neatly by a little board,
that, if the massive hand of the constable had not effected a breach,
the ducats might have remained hidden to the end of time. On examining
the portrait, he marvelled again at the exquisite workmanship, the
extraordinary treatment of the eyes. They no longer appeared terrible
to him; but, nevertheless, each time he looked at them a disagreeable
feeling involuntarily lingered in his mind.
"No," he said to himself, "no matter whose grandfather you were, I'll
put a glass over you, and get you a gilt frame." Then he laid his hand
on the golden pile before him, and his heart beat faster at the touch.
"What shall I do with them?" he said, fixing his eyes on them. "Now I
am independent for at least three years: I can shut myself up in my
room and work. I have money for colours now; for food and lodging--no
one will annoy and disturb me now. I will buy myself a first-class lay
figure, I will order a plaster torso, and some model feet, I will have
a Venus. I will buy engravings of the best pictures. And if I work
three years to satisfy myself, without haste or with the idea of
selling, I shall surpass all, and may become a distinguished artist."
Thus he spoke in solitude, with his good judgment prompting him; but
louder and more distinct sounded another voice within him. As he
glanced once more at the gold, it was not thus that his twenty-two
years and fiery youth reasoned. Now everything was within his power on
which he had hitherto gazed with envious eyes, had viewed from afar
with longing. How his heart beat when he thought of it! To wear a
fashionable coat, to feast after long abstinence, to hire handsome
apartments, to go at once to the theatre, to the confectioner's,
to . . . other places; and seizing his money, he was in the street in
a moment.
First of all he went to the tailor, was clothed anew from head to
foot, and began to look at himself like a child. He purchased perfumes
and pomades; hired the first elegant suite of apartments with mirrors
and plateglass windows which he came across in the Nevsky Prospect,
without haggling about the price; bought, on the impulse of the
moment, a costly eye-glass; bought, also on the impulse, a number of
neckties of every description, many more than he needed; had his hair
curled at the hairdresser's; rode through the city twice without any
object whatever; ate an immense quantity of sweetmeats at the
confectioner's; and went to the French Restaurant, of which he had
heard rumours as indistinct as though they had concerned the Empire of
China. There he dined, casting proud glances at the other visitors,
and continually arranging his curls in the glass. There he drank a
bottle of champagne, which had been known to him hitherto only by
hearsay. The wine rather affected his head; and he emerged into the
street, lively, pugnacious, and ready to raise the Devil, according to
the Russian expression. He strutted along the pavement, levelling his
eye-glass at everybody. On the bridge he caught sight of his former
professor, and slipped past him neatly, as if he did not see him, so
that the astounded professor stood stock-still on the bridge for a
long time, with a face suggestive of a note of interrogation.
All his goods and chattels, everything he owned, easels, canvas,
pictures, were transported that same evening to his elegant quarters.
He arranged the best of them in conspicuous places, threw the worst
into a corner, and promenaded up and down the handsome rooms, glancing
constantly in the mirrors. An unconquerable desire to take the bull by
the horns, and show himself to the world at once, had arisen in his
mind. He already heard the shouts, "Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff
paints! What talent Tchartkoff has!" He paced the room in a state of
The next day he took ten ducats, and went to the editor of a popular
journal asking his charitable assistance. He was joyfully received by
the journalist, who called him on the spot, "Most respected sir,"
squeezed both his hands, and made minute inquiries as to his name,
birthplace, residence. The next day there appeared in the journal,
below a notice of some newly invented tallow candles, an article with
the following heading:--
"We hasten to delight the cultivated inhabitants of the capital with a
discovery which we may call splendid in every respect. All are agreed
that there are among us many very handsome faces, but hitherto there
has been no means of committing them to canvas for transmission to
posterity. This want has now been supplied: an artist has been found
who unites in himself all desirable qualities. The beauty can now feel
assured that she will be depicted with all the grace of her charms,
airy, fascinating, butterfly-like, flitting among the flowers of
spring. The stately father of a family can see himself surrounded by
his family. Merchant, warrior, citizen, statesman--hasten one and all,
wherever you may be. The artist's magnificent establishment [Nevsky
Prospect, such and such a number] is hung with portraits from his
brush, worthy of Van Dyck or Titian. We do not know which to admire
most, their truth and likeness to the originals, or the wonderful
brilliancy and freshness of the colouring. Hail to you, artist! you
have drawn a lucky number in the lottery. Long live Andrei
Petrovitch!" (The journalist evidently liked familiarity.) "Glorify
yourself and us. We know how to prize you. Universal popularity, and
with it wealth, will be your meed, though some of our brother
journalists may rise against you."
The artist read this article with secret satisfaction; his face
beamed. He was mentioned in print; it was a novelty to him: he read
the lines over several times. The comparison with Van Dyck and Titian
flattered him extremely. The praise, "Long live Andrei Petrovitch,"
also pleased him greatly: to be spoken of by his Christian name and
patronymic in print was an honour hitherto totally unknown to him. He
began to pace the chamber briskly, now he sat down in an armchair, now
he sprang up, and seated himself on the sofa, planning each moment how
he would receive visitors, male and female; he went to his canvas and
made a rapid sweep of the brush, endeavouring to impart a graceful
movement to his hand.
The next day, the bell at his door rang. He hastened to open it. A
lady entered, accompanied by a girl of eighteen, her daughter, and
followed by a lackey in a furred livery-coat.
"You are the painter Tchartkoff?"
The artist bowed.
"A great deal is written about you: your portraits, it is said, are
the height of perfection." So saying, the lady raised her glass to her
eyes and glanced rapidly over the walls, upon which nothing was
hanging. "But where are your portraits?"
"They have been taken away" replied the artist, somewhat confusedly:
"I have but just moved into these apartments; so they are still on the
road, they have not arrived."
"You have been in Italy?" asked the lady, levelling her glass at him,
as she found nothing else to point it at.
"No, I have not been there; but I wish to go, and I have deferred it
for a while. Here is an arm-chair, madame: you are fatigued?"
"Thank you: I have been sitting a long time in the carriage. Ah, at
last I behold your work!" said the lady, running to the opposite wall,
and bringing her glass to bear upon his studies, sketches, views and
portraits which were standing there on the floor. "It is charming.
Lise! Lise, come here. Rooms in the style of Teniers. Do you see?
Disorder, disorder, a table with a bust upon it, a hand, a palette;
dust, see how the dust is painted! It is charming. And here on this
canvas is a woman washing her face. What a pretty face! Ah! a little
muzhik! So you do not devote yourself exclusively to portraits?"
"Oh! that is mere rubbish. I was trying experiments, studies."
"Tell me your opinion of the portrait painters of the present day. Is
it not true that there are none now like Titian? There is not that
strength of colour, that--that-- What a pity that I cannot express
myself in Russian." The lady was fond of paintings, and had gone
through all the galleries in Italy with her eye-glass. "But Monsieur
Nohl--ah, how well he paints! what remarkable work! I think his faces
have been more expression than Titian's. You do not know Monsieur
"Who is Nohl?" inquired the artist.
"Monsieur Nohl. Ah, what talent! He painted her portrait when she was
only twelve years old. You must certainly come to see us. Lise, you
shall show him your album. You know, we came expressly that you might
begin her portrait immediately."
"What? I am ready this very moment." And in a trice he pulled forward
an easel with a canvas already prepared, grasped his palette, and
fixed his eyes on the daughter's pretty little face. If he had been
acquainted with human nature, he might have read in it the dawning of
a childish passion for balls, the dawning of sorrow and misery at the
length of time before dinner and after dinner, the heavy traces of
uninterested application to various arts, insisted upon by her mother
for the elevation of her mind. But the artist saw only the tender
little face, a seductive subject for his brush, the body almost as
transparent as porcelain, the delicate white neck, and the
aristocratically slender form. And he prepared beforehand to triumph,
to display the delicacy of his brush, which had hitherto had to deal
only with the harsh features of coarse models, and severe antiques and
copies of classic masters. He already saw in fancy how this delicate
little face would turn out.
"Do you know," said the lady with a positively touching expression of
countenance, "I should like her to be painted simply attired, and
seated among green shadows, like meadows, with a flock or a grove in
the distance, so that it could not be seen that she goes to balls or
fashionable entertainments. Our balls, I must confess, murder the
intellect, deaden all remnants of feeling. Simplicity! would there
were more simplicity!" Alas, it was stamped on the faces of mother and
daughter that they had so overdanced themselves at balls that they had
become almost wax figures.
Tchartkoff set to work, posed his model, reflected a bit, fixed upon
the idea, waved his brush in the air, settling the points mentally,
and then began and finished the sketching in within an hour. Satisfied
with it, he began to paint. The task fascinated him; he forgot
everything, forgot the very existence of the aristocratic ladies,
began even to display some artistic tricks, uttering various odd
sounds and humming to himself now and then as artists do when immersed
heart and soul in their work. Without the slightest ceremony, he made
the sitter lift her head, which finally began to express utter
"Enough for the first time," said the lady.
"A little more," said the artist, forgetting himself.
"No, it is time to stop. Lise, three o'clock!" said the lady, taking
out a tiny watch which hung by a gold chain from her girdle. "How late
it is!"
"Only a minute," said Tchartkoff innocently, with the pleading voice
of a child.
But the lady appeared to be not at all inclined to yield to his
artistic demands on this occasion; she promised, however, to sit
longer the next time.
"It is vexatious, all the same," thought Tchartkoff to himself: "I had
just got my hand in;" and he remembered no one had interrupted him or
stopped him when he was at work in his studio on Vasilievsky Ostroff.
Nikita sat motionless in one place. You might even paint him as long
as you pleased; he even went to sleep in the attitude prescribed him.
Feeling dissatisfied, he laid his brush and palette on a chair, and
paused in irritation before the picture.
The woman of the world's compliments awoke him from his reverie. He
flew to the door to show them out: on the stairs he received an
invitation to dine with them the following week, and returned with a
cheerful face to his apartments. The aristocratic lady had completely
charmed him. Up to that time he had looked upon such beings as
unapproachable, born solely to ride in magnificent carriages, with
liveried footmen and stylish coachmen, and to cast indifferent glances
on the poor man travelling on foot in a cheap cloak. And now, all of a
sudden, one of these very beings had entered his room; he was painting
her portrait, was invited to dinner at an aristocratic house. An
unusual feeling of pleasure took possession of him: he was completely
intoxicated, and rewarded himself with a splendid dinner, an evening
at the theatre, and a drive through the city in a carriage, without
any necessity whatever.
But meanwhile his ordinary work did not fall in with his mood at all.
He did nothing but wait for the moment when the bell should ring. At
last the aristocratic lady arrived with her pale daughter. He seated
them, drew forward the canvas with skill, and some efforts of
fashionable airs, and began to paint. The sunny day and bright light
aided him not a little: he saw in his dainty sitter much which, caught
and committed to canvas, would give great value to the portrait. He
perceived that he might accomplish something good if he could
reproduce, with accuracy, all that nature then offered to his eyes.
His heart began to beat faster as he felt that he was expressing
something which others had not even seen as yet. His work engrossed
him completely: he was wholly taken up with it, and again forgot the
aristocratic origin of the sitter. With heaving breast he saw the
delicate features and the almost transparent body of the fair maiden
grow beneath his hand. He had caught every shade, the slight
sallowness, the almost imperceptible blue tinge under the eyes--and
was already preparing to put in the tiny mole on the brow, when he
suddenly heard the mother's voice behind him.
"Ah! why do you paint that? it is not necessary: and you have made it
here, in several places, rather yellow; and here, quite so, like dark
The artist undertook to explain that the spots and yellow tinge would
turn out well, that they brought out the delicate and pleasing tones
of the face. He was informed that they did not bring out tones, and
would not turn out well at all. It was explained to him that just
to-day Lise did not feel quite well; that she never was sallow, and
that her face was distinguished for its fresh colouring.
Sadly he began to erase what his brush had put upon the canvas. Many a
nearly imperceptible feature disappeared, and with it vanished too a
portion of the resemblance. He began indifferently to impart to the
picture that commonplace colouring which can be painted mechanically,
and which lends to a face, even when taken from nature, the sort of
cold ideality observable on school programmes. But the lady was
satisfied when the objectionable tone was quite banished. She merely
expressed surprise that the work lasted so long, and added that she
had heard that he finished a portrait completely in two sittings. The
artist could not think of any answer to this. The ladies rose, and
prepared to depart. He laid aside his brush, escorted them to the
door, and then stood disconsolate for a long while in one spot before
the portrait.
He gazed stupidly at it; and meanwhile there floated before his mind's
eye those delicate features, those shades, and airy tints which he had
copied, and which his brush had annihilated. Engrossed with them, he
put the portrait on one side and hunted up a head of Psyche which he
had some time before thrown on canvas in a sketchy manner. It was a
pretty little face, well painted, but entirely ideal, and having cold,
regular features not lit up by life. For lack of occupation, he now
began to tone it up, imparting to it all he had taken note of in his
aristocratic sitter. Those features, shadows, tints, which he had
noted, made their appearance here in the purified form in which they
appear when the painter, after closely observing nature, subordinates
himself to her, and produces a creation equal to her own.
Psyche began to live: and the scarcely dawning thought began, little
by little, to clothe itself in a visible form. The type of face of the
fashionable young lady was unconsciously transferred to Psyche, yet
nevertheless she had an expression of her own which gave the picture
claims to be considered in truth an original creation. Tchartkoff gave
himself up entirely to his work. For several days he was engrossed by
it alone, and the ladies surprised him at it on their arrival. He had
not time to remove the picture from the easel. Both ladies uttered a
cry of amazement, and clasped their hands.
"Lise, Lise! Ah, how like! Superb, superb! What a happy thought, too,
to drape her in a Greek costume! Ah, what a surprise!"
The artist could not see his way to disabuse the ladies of their
error. Shamefacedly, with drooping head, he murmured, "This is
"In the character of Psyche? Charming!" said the mother, smiling, upon
which the daughter smiled too. "Confess, Lise, it pleases you to be
painted in the character of Psyche better than any other way? What a
sweet idea! But what treatment! It is Correggio himself. I must say
that, although I had read and heard about you, I did not know you had
so much talent. You positively must paint me too." Evidently the lady
wanted to be portrayed as some kind of Psyche too.
"What am I to do with them?" thought the artist. "If they will have it
so, why, let Psyche pass for what they choose:" and added aloud, "Pray
sit a little: I will touch it up here and there."
"Ah! I am afraid you will . . . it is such a capital likeness now!"
But the artist understood that the difficulty was with respect to the
sallowness, and so he reassured them by saying that he only wished to
give more brilliancy and expression to the eyes. In truth, he was
ashamed, and wanted to impart a little more likeness to the original,
lest any one should accuse him of actual barefaced flattery. And the
features of the pale young girl at length appeared more closely in
Psyche's countenance.
"Enough," said the mother, beginning to fear that the likeness might
become too decided. The artist was remunerated in every way, with
smiles, money, compliments, cordial pressures of the hand, invitations
to dinner: in short, he received a thousand flattering rewards.
The portrait created a furore in the city. The lady exhibited it to
her friends, and all admired the skill with which the artist had
preserved the likeness, and at the same time conferred more beauty on
the original. The last remark, of course, was prompted by a slight
tinge of envy. The artist was suddenly overwhelmed with work. It
seemed as if the whole city wanted to be painted by him. The door-bell
rang incessantly. From one point of view, this might be considered
advantageous, as presenting to him endless practice in variety and
number of faces. But, unfortunately, they were all people who were
hard to get along with, either busy, hurried people, or else belonging
to the fashionable world, and consequently more occupied than any one
else, and therefore impatient to the last degree. In all quarters, the
demand was merely that the likeness should be good and quickly
executed. The artist perceived that it was a simple impossibility to
finish his work; that it was necessary to exchange power of treatment
for lightness and rapidity, to catch only the general expression, and
not waste labour on delicate details.
Moreover, nearly all of his sitters made stipulations on various
points. The ladies required that mind and character should be
represented in their portraits; that all angles should be rounded, all
unevenness smoothed away, and even removed entirely if possible; in
short, that their faces should be such as to cause every one to stare
at them with admiration, if not fall in love with them outright. When
they sat to him, they sometimes assumed expressions which greatly
amazed the artist; one tried to express melancholy; another,
meditation; a third wanted to make her mouth appear small on any
terms, and puckered it up to such an extent that it finally looked
like a spot about as big as a pinhead. And in spite of all this, they
demanded of him good likenesses and unconstrained naturalness. The men
were no better: one insisted on being painted with an energetic,
muscular turn to his head; another, with upturned, inspired eyes; a
lieutenant of the guard demanded that Mars should be visible in his
eyes; an official in the civil service drew himself up to his full
height in order to have his uprightness expressed in his face, and
that his hand might rest on a book bearing the words in plain
characters, "He always stood up for the right."
At first such demands threw the artist into a cold perspiration.
Finally he acquired the knack of it, and never troubled himself at all
about it. He understood at a word how each wanted himself portrayed.
If a man wanted Mars in his face, he put in Mars: he gave a Byronic
turn and attitude to those who aimed at Byron. If the ladies wanted to
be Corinne, Undine, or Aspasia, he agreed with great readiness, and
threw in a sufficient measure of good looks from his own imagination,
which does no harm, and for the sake of which an artist is even
forgiven a lack of resemblance. He soon began to wonder himself at the
rapidity and dash of his brush. And of course those who sat to him
were in ecstasies, and proclaimed him a genius.
Tchartkoff became a fashionable artist in every sense of the word. He
began to dine out, to escort ladies to picture galleries, to dress
foppishly, and to assert audibly that an artist should belong to
society, that he must uphold his profession, that artists mostly dress
like showmakers, do not know how to behave themselves, do not maintain
the highest tone, and are lacking in all polish. At home, in his
studio, he carried cleanliness and spotlessness to the last extreme,
set up two superb footmen, took fashionable pupils, dressed several
times a day, curled his hair, practised various manners of receiving
his callers, and busied himself in adorning his person in every
conceivable way, in order to produce a pleasing impression on the
ladies. In short, it would soon have been impossible for any one to
have recognised in him the modest artist who had formerly toiled
unknown in his miserable quarters in the Vasilievsky Ostroff.
He now expressed himself decidedly concerning artists and art;
declared that too much credit had been given to the old masters; that
even Raphael did not always paint well, and that fame attached to many
of his works simply by force of tradition: that Michael Angelo was a
braggart because he could boast only a knowledge of anatomy; that
there was no grace about him, and that real brilliancy and power of
treatment and colouring were to be looked for in the present century.
And there, naturally, the question touched him personally. "I do not
understand," said he, "how others toil and work with difficulty: a man
who labours for months over a picture is a dauber, and no artist in my
opinion; I don't believe he has any talent: genius works boldly,
rapidly. Here is this portrait which I painted in two days, this head
in one day, this in a few hours, this in little more than an hour. No,
I confess I do not recognise as art that which adds line to line; that
is a handicraft, not art." In this manner did he lecture his visitors;
and the visitors admired the strength and boldness of his works,
uttered exclamations on hearing how fast they had been produced, and
said to each other, "This is talent, real talent! see how he speaks,
how his eyes gleam! There is something really extraordinary in his
It flattered the artist to hear such reports about himself. When
printed praise appeared in the papers, he rejoiced like a child,
although this praise was purchased with his money. He carried the
printed slips about with him everywhere, and showed them to friends
and acquaintances as if by accident. His fame increased, his works and
orders multiplied. Already the same portraits over and over again
wearied him, by the same attitudes and turns, which he had learned by
heart. He painted them now without any great interest in his work,
brushing in some sort of a head, and giving them to his pupil's to
finish. At first he had sought to devise a new attitude each time. Now
this had grown wearisome to him. His brain was tired with planning and
thinking. It was out of his power; his fashionable life bore him far
away from labour and thought. His work grew cold and colourless; and
he betook himself with indifference to the reproduction of monotonous,
well-worn forms. The eternally spick-and-span uniforms, and the
so-to-speak buttoned-up faces of the government officials, soldiers,
and statesmen, did not offer a wide field for his brush: it forgot how
to render superb draperies and powerful emotion and passion. Of
grouping, dramatic effect and its lofty connections, there was
nothing. In face of him was only a uniform, a corsage, a dress-coat,
and before which the artist feels cold and all imagination vanishes.
Even his own peculiar merits were no longer visible in his works, yet
they continued to enjoy renown; although genuine connoisseurs and
artists merely shrugged their shoulders when they saw his latest
productions. But some who had known Tchartkoff in his earlier days
could not understand how the talent of which he had given such clear
indications in the outset could so have vanished; and strove in vain
to divine by what means genius could be extinguished in a man just
when he had attained to the full development of his powers.
But the intoxicated artist did not hear these criticisms. He began to
attain to the age of dignity, both in mind and years: to grow stout,
and increase visibly in flesh. He often read in the papers such
phrases as, "Our most respected Andrei Petrovitch; our worthy Andrei
Petrovitch." He began to receive offers of distinguished posts in the
service, invitations to examinations and committees. He began, as is
usually the case in maturer years, to advocate Raphael and the old
masters, not because he had become thoroughly convinced of their
transcendent merits, but in order to snub the younger artists. His
life was already approaching the period when everything which suggests
impulse contracts within a man; when a powerful chord appeals more
feebly to the spirit; when the touch of beauty no longer converts
virgin strength into fire and flame, but when all the burnt-out
sentiments become more vulnerable to the sound of gold, hearken more
attentively to its seductive music, and little by little permit
themselves to be completely lulled to sleep by it. Fame can give no
pleasure to him who has stolen it, not won it; so all his feelings and
impulses turned towards wealth. Gold was his passion, his ideal, his
fear, his delight, his aim. The bundles of bank-notes increased in his
coffers; and, like all to whose lot falls this fearful gift, he began
to grow inaccessible to every sentiment except the love of gold. But
something occurred which gave him a powerful shock, and disturbed the
whole tenor of his life.
One day he found upon his table a note, in which the Academy of
Painting begged him, as a worthy member of its body, to come and give
his opinion upon a new work which had been sent from Italy by a
Russian artist who was perfecting himself there. The painter was one
of his former comrades, who had been possessed with a passion for art
from his earliest years, had given himself up to it with his whole
soul, estranged himself from his friends and relatives, and had
hastened to that wonderful Rome, at whose very name the artist's heart
beats wildly and hotly. There he buried himself in his work from which
he permitted nothing to entice him. He visited the galleries
unweariedly, he stood for hours at a time before the works of the
great masters, seizing and studying their marvellous methods. He never
finished anything without revising his impressions several times
before these great teachers, and reading in their works silent but
eloquent counsels. He gave each impartially his due, appropriating
from all only that which was most beautiful, and finally became the
pupil of the divine Raphael alone, as a great poet, after reading many
works, at last made Homer's "Iliad" his only breviary, having
discovered that it contains all one wants, and that there is nothing
which is not expressed in it in perfection. And so he brought away
from his school the grand conception of creation, the mighty beauty of
thought, the high charm of that heavenly brush.
When Tchartkoff entered the room, he found a crowd of visitors already
collected before the picture. The most profound silence, such as
rarely settles upon a throng of critics, reigned over all. He hastened
to assume the significant expression of a connoisseur, and approached
the picture; but, O God! what did he behold!
Pure, faultless, beautiful as a bride, stood the picture before him.
The critics regarded this new hitherto unknown work with a feeling of
involuntary wonder. All seemed united in it: the art of Raphael,
reflected in the lofty grace of the grouping; the art of Correggio,
breathing from the finished perfection of the workmanship. But more
striking than all else was the evident creative power in the artist's
mind. The very minutest object in the picture revealed it; he had
caught that melting roundness of outline which is visible in nature
only to the artist creator, and which comes out as angles with a
copyist. It was plainly visible how the artist, having imbibed it all
from the external world, had first stored it in his mind, and then
drawn it thence, as from a spiritual source, into one harmonious,
triumphant song. And it was evident, even to the uninitiated, how vast
a gulf there was fixed between creation and a mere copy from nature.
Involuntary tears stood ready to fall in the eyes of those who
surrounded the picture. It seemed as though all joined in a silent
hymn to the divine work.
Motionless, with open mouth, Tchartkoff stood before the picture. At
length, when by degrees the visitors and critics began to murmur and
comment upon the merits of the work, and turning to him, begged him to
express an opinion, he came to himself once more. He tried to assume
an indifferent, everyday expression; strove to utter some such
commonplace remark as; "Yes, to tell the truth, it is impossible to
deny the artist's talent; there is something in it;" but the speech
died upon his lips, tears and sobs burst forth uncontrollably, and he
rushed from the room like one beside himself.
In a moment he stood in his magnificent studio. All his being, all his
life, had been aroused in one instant, as if youth had returned to
him, as if the dying sparks of his talent had blazed forth afresh. The
bandage suddenly fell from his eyes. Heavens! to think of having
mercilessly wasted the best years of his youth, of having
extinguished, trodden out perhaps, that spark of fire which, cherished
in his breast, might perhaps have been developed into magnificence and
beauty, and have extorted too, its meed of tears and admiration! It
seemed as though those impulses which he had known in other days
re-awoke suddenly in his soul.
He seized a brush and approached his canvas. One thought possessed him
wholly, one desire consumed him; he strove to depict a fallen angel.
This idea was most in harmony with his frame of mind. The perspiration
started out upon his face with his efforts; but, alas! his figures,
attitudes, groups, thoughts, arranged themselves stiffly,
disconnectedly. His hand and his imagination had been too long
confined to one groove; and the fruitless effort to escape from the
bonds and fetters which he had imposed upon himself, showed itself in
irregularities and errors. He had despised the long, wearisome ladder
to knowledge, and the first fundamental law of the future great man,
hard work. He gave vent to his vexation. He ordered all his later
productions to be taken out of his studio, all the fashionable,
lifeless pictures, all the portraits of hussars, ladies, and
councillors of state.
He shut himself up alone in his room, would order no food, and devoted
himself entirely to his work. He sat toiling like a scholar. But how
pitifully wretched was all which proceeded from his hand! He was
stopped at every step by his ignorance of the very first principles:
simple ignorance of the mechanical part of his art chilled all
inspiration and formed an impassable barrier to his imagination. His
brush returned involuntarily to hackneyed forms: hands folded
themselves in a set attitude; heads dared not make any unusual turn;
the very garments turned out commonplace, and would not drape
themselves to any unaccustomed posture of the body. And he felt and
saw this all himself.
"But had I really any talent?" he said at length: "did not I deceive
myself?" Uttering these words, he turned to the early works which he
had painted so purely, so unselfishly, in former days, in his wretched
cabin yonder in lonely Vasilievsky Ostroff. He began attentively to
examine them all; and all the misery of his former life came back to
him. "Yes," he cried despairingly, "I had talent: the signs and traces
of it are everywhere visible--"
He paused suddenly, and shivered all over. His eyes encountered other
eyes fixed immovably upon him. It was that remarkable portrait which
he had bought in the Shtchukinui Dvor. All this time it had been
covered up, concealed by other pictures, and had utterly gone out of
his mind. Now, as if by design, when all the fashionable portraits and
paintings had been removed from the studio, it looked forth, together
with the productions of his early youth. As he recalled all the
strange events connected with it; as he remembered that this singular
portrait had been, in a manner, the cause of his errors; that the
hoard of money which he had obtained in such peculiar fashion had
given birth in his mind to all the wild caprices which had destroyed
his talent--madness was on the point of taking possession of him. At
once he ordered the hateful portrait to be removed.
But his mental excitement was not thereby diminished. His whole being
was shaken to its foundation; and he suffered that fearful torture
which is sometimes exhibited when a feeble talent strives to display
itself on a scale too great for it and cannot do so. A horrible envy
took possession of him--an envy which bordered on madness. The gall
flew to his heart when he beheld a work which bore the stamp of
talent. He gnashed his teeth, and devoured it with the glare of a
basilisk. He conceived the most devilish plan which ever entered into
the mind of man, and he hastened with the strength of madness to carry
it into execution. He began to purchase the best that art produced of
every kind. Having bought a picture at a great price, he transported
it to his room, flung himself upon it with the ferocity of a tiger,
cut it, tore it, chopped it into bits, and stamped upon it with a grin
of delight.
The vast wealth he had amassed enabled him to gratify this devilish
desire. He opened his bags of gold and unlocked his coffers. No
monster of ignorance ever destroyed so many superb productions of art
as did this raging avenger. At any auction where he made his
appearance, every one despaired at once of obtaining any work of art.
It seemed as if an angry heaven had sent this fearful scourge into the
world expressly to destroy all harmony. Scorn of the world was
expressed in his countenance. His tongue uttered nothing save biting
and censorious words. He swooped down like a harpy into the street:
and his acquaintances, catching sight of him in the distance, sought
to turn aside and avoid a meeting with him, saying that it poisoned
all the rest of the day.
Fortunately for the world and art, such a life could not last long:
his passions were too overpowering for his feeble strength. Attacks of
madness began to recur more frequently, and ended at last in the most
frightful illness. A violent fever, combined with galloping
consumption, seized upon him with such violence, that in three days
there remained only a shadow of his former self. To this was added
indications of hopeless insanity. Sometimes several men were unable to
hold him. The long-forgotten, living eyes of the portrait began to
torment him, and then his madness became dreadful. All the people who
surrounded his bed seemed to him horrible portraits. The portrait
doubled and quadrupled itself; all the walls seemed hung with
portraits, which fastened their living eyes upon him; portraits glared
at him from the ceiling, from the floor; the room widened and
lengthened endlessly, in order to make room for more of the motionless
eyes. The doctor who had undertaken to attend him, having learned
something of his strange history, strove with all his might to fathom
the secret connection between the visions of his fancy and the
occurrences of his life, but without the slightest success. The sick
man understood nothing, felt nothing, save his own tortures, and gave
utterance only to frightful yells and unintelligible gibberish. At
last his life ended in a final attack of unutterable suffering.
Nothing could be found of all his great wealth; but when they beheld
the mutilated fragments of grand works of art, the value of which
exceeded a million, they understood the terrible use which had been
made of it.
A THRONG of carriages and other vehicles stood at the entrance of a
house in which an auction was going on of the effects of one of those
wealthy art-lovers who have innocently passed for Maecenases, and in a
simple-minded fashion expended, to that end, the millions amassed by
their thrifty fathers, and frequently even by their own early labours.
The long saloon was filled with the most motley throng of visitors,
collected like birds of prey swooping down upon an unburied corpse.
There was a whole squadron of Russian shop-keepers from the Gostinnui
Dvor, and from the old-clothes mart, in blue coats of foreign make.
Their faces and expressions were a little more natural here, and did
not display that fictitious desire to be subservient which is so
marked in the Russian shop-keeper when he stands before a customer in
his shop. Here they stood upon no ceremony, although the saloons were
full of those very aristocrats before whom, in any other place, they
would have been ready to sweep, with reverence, the dust brought in by
their feet. They were quite at their ease, handling pictures and books
without ceremony, when desirous of ascertaining the value of the
goods, and boldly upsetting bargains mentally secured in advance by
noble connoisseurs. There were many of those infallible attendants of
auctions who make it a point to go to one every day as regularly as to
take their breakfast; aristocratic connoisseurs who look upon it as
their duty not to miss any opportunity of adding to their collections,
and who have no other occupation between twelve o'clock and one; and
noble gentlemen, with garments very threadbare, who make their daily
appearance without any selfish object in view, but merely to see how
it all goes off.
A quantity of pictures were lying about in disorder: with them were
mingled furniture, and books with the cipher of the former owner, who
never was moved by any laudable desire to glance into them. Chinese
vases, marble slabs for tables, old and new furniture with curving
lines, with griffins, sphinxes, and lions' paws, gilded and ungilded,
chandeliers, sconces, all were heaped together in a perfect chaos of
The auction appeared to be at its height.
The surging throng was competing for a portrait which could not but
arrest the attention of all who possessed any knowledge of art. The
skilled hand of an artist was plainly visible in it. The portrait,
which had apparently been several times restored and renovated,
represented the dark features of an Asiatic in flowing garments, and
with a strange and remarkable expression of countenance; but what
struck the buyers more than anything else was the peculiar liveliness
of the eyes. The more they were looked at, the more did they seem to
penetrate into the gazer's heart. This peculiarity, this strange
illusion achieved by the artist, attracted the attention of nearly
all. Many who had been bidding gradually withdrew, for the price
offered had risen to an incredible sum. There remained only two
well-known aristocrats, amateurs of painting, who were unwilling to
forego such an acquisition. They grew warm, and would probably have
run the bidding up to an impossible sum, had not one of the onlookers
suddenly exclaimed, "Permit me to interrupt your competition for a
while: I, perhaps, more than any other, have a right to this
These words at once drew the attention of all to him. He was a tall
man of thirty-five, with long black curls. His pleasant face, full of
a certain bright nonchalance, indicated a mind free from all
wearisome, worldly excitement; his garments had no pretence to
fashion: all about him indicated the artist. He was, in fact, B. the
painter, a man personally well known to many of those present.
"However strange my words may seem to you," he continued, perceiving
that the general attention was directed to him, "if you will listen to
a short story, you may possibly see that I was right in uttering them.
Everything assures me that this is the portrait which I am looking
A natural curiosity illuminated the faces of nearly all present; and
even the auctioneer paused as he was opening his mouth, and with
hammer uplifted in the air, prepared to listen. At the beginning of
the story, many glanced involuntarily towards the portrait; but later
on, all bent their attention solely on the narrator, as his tale grew
gradually more absorbing.
"You know that portion of the city which is called Kolomna," he began.
"There everything is unlike anything else in St. Petersburg. Retired
officials remove thither to live; widows; people not very well off,
who have acquaintances in the senate, and therefore condemn themselves
to this for nearly the whole of their lives; and, in short, that whole
list of people who can be described by the words ash-coloured--people
whose garments, faces, hair, eyes, have a sort of ashy surface, like a
day when there is in the sky neither cloud nor sun. Among them may be
retired actors, retired titular councillors, retired sons of Mars,
with ruined eyes and swollen lips.
"Life in Kolomna is terribly dull: rarely does a carriage appear,
except, perhaps, one containing an actor, which disturbs the universal
stillness by its rumble, noise, and jingling. You can get lodgings for
five rubles a month, coffee in the morning included. Widows with
pensions are the most aristocratic families there; they conduct
themselves well, sweep their rooms often, chatter with their friends
about the dearness of beef and cabbage, and frequently have a young
daughter, a taciturn, quiet, sometimes pretty creature; an ugly dog,
and wall-clocks which strike in a melancholy fashion. Then come the
actors whose salaries do not permit them to desert Kolomna, an
independent folk, living, like all artists, for pleasure. They sit in
their dressing-gowns, cleaning their pistols, gluing together all
sorts of things out of cardboard, playing draughts and cards with any
friend who chances to drop in, and so pass away the morning, doing
pretty nearly the same in the evening, with the addition of punch now
and then. After these great people and aristocracy of Kolomna, come
the rank and file. It is as difficult to put a name to them as to
remember the multitude of insects which breed in stale vinegar. There
are old women who get drunk, who make a living by incomprehensible
means, like ants, dragging old clothes and rags from the Kalinkin
Bridge to the old clothes-mart, in order to sell them for fifteen
kopeks--in short, the very dregs of mankind, whose conditions no
beneficent, political economist has devised any means of ameliorating.
"I have mentioned them in order to point out how often such people
find themselves under the necessity of seeking immediate temporary
assistance and having recourse to borrowing. Hence there settles among
them a peculiar race of money-lenders who lend small sums on security
at an enormous percentage. Among these usurers was a certain . . . but
I must not omit to mention that the occurrence which I have undertaken
to relate occurred the last century, in the reign of our late Empress
Catherine the Second. So, among the usurers, at that epoch, was a
certain person--an extraordinary being in every respect, who had
settled in that quarter of the city long before. He went about in
flowing Asiatic garb; his dark complexion indicated a Southern origin,
but to what particular nation he belonged, India, Greece, or Persia,
no one could say with certainty. Of tall, almost colossal stature,
with dark, thin, ardent face, heavy overhanging brows, and an
indescribably strange colour in his large eyes of unwonted fire, he
differed sharply and strongly from all the ash-coloured denizens of
the capital.
"His very dwelling was unlike the other little wooden houses. It was
of stone, in the style of those formerly much affected by Genoese
merchants, with irregular windows of various sizes, secured with iron
shutters and bars. This usurer differed from other usurers also in
that he could furnish any required sum, from that desired by the poor
old beggar-woman to that demanded by the extravagant grandee of the
court. The most gorgeous equipages often halted in front of his house,
and from their windows sometimes peeped forth the head of an elegant
high-born lady. Rumour, as usual, reported that his iron coffers were
full of untold gold, treasures, diamonds, and all sorts of pledges,
but that, nevertheless, he was not the slave of that avarice which is
characteristic of other usurers. He lent money willingly, and on very
favourable terms of payment apparently, but, by some curious method of
reckoning, made them mount to an incredible percentage. So said
rumour, at any rate. But what was strangest of all was the peculiar
fate of those who received money from him: they all ended their lives
in some unhappy way. Whether this was simply the popular superstition,
or the result of reports circulated with an object, is not known. But
several instances which happened within a brief space of time before
the eyes of every one were vivid and striking.
"Among the aristocracy of that day, one who speedily drew attention to
himself was a young man of one of the best families who had made a
figure in his early years in court circles, a warm admirer of
everything true and noble, zealous in his love for art, and giving
promise of becoming a Maecenas. He was soon deservedly distinguished
by the Empress, who conferred upon him an important post, fully
proportioned to his deserts--a post in which he could accomplish much
for science and the general welfare. The youthful dignitary surrounded
himself with artists, poets, and learned men. He wished to give work
to all, to encourage all. He undertook, at his own expense, a number
of useful publications; gave numerous orders to artists; offered
prizes for the encouragement of different arts; spent a great deal of
money, and finally ruined himself. But, full of noble impulses, he did
not wish to relinquish his work, sought to raise a loan, and finally
betook himself to the well-known usurer. Having borrowed a
considerable sum from him, the man in a short time changed completely.
He became a persecutor and oppressor of budding talent and intellect.
He saw the bad side in everything produced, and every word he uttered
was false.
"Then, unfortunately, came the French Revolution. This furnished him
with an excuse for every kind of suspicion. He began to discover a
revolutionary tendency in everything; to concoct terrible and unjust
accusations, which made scores of people unhappy. Of course, such
conduct could not fail in time to reach the throne. The kind-hearted
Empress was shocked; and, full of the noble spirit which adorns
crowned heads, she uttered words still engraven on many hearts. The
Empress remarked that not under a monarchical government were high and
noble impulses persecuted; not there were the creations of intellect,
poetry, and art contemned and oppressed. On the other hand, monarchs
alone were their protectors. Shakespeare and Moliere flourished under
their magnanimous protection, while Dante could not find a corner in
his republican birthplace. She said that true geniuses arise at the
epoch of brilliancy and power in emperors and empires, but not in the
time of monstrous political apparitions and republican terrorism,
which, up to that time, had never given to the world a single poet;
that poet-artists should be marked out for favour, since peace and
divine quiet alone compose their minds, not excitement and tumult;
that learned men, poets, and all producers of art are the pearls and
diamonds in the imperial crown: by them is the epoch of the great
ruler adorned, and from them it receives yet greater brilliancy.
"As the Empress uttered these words she was divinely beautiful for the
moment, and I remember old men who could not speak of the occurrence
without tears. All were interested in the affair. It must be remarked,
to the honour of our national pride, that in the Russian's heart there
always beats a fine feeling that he must adopt the part of the
persecuted. The dignitary who had betrayed his trust was punished in
an exemplary manner and degraded from his post. But he read a more
dreadful punishment in the faces of his fellow-countrymen: universal
scorn. It is impossible to describe what he suffered, and he died in a
terrible attack of raving madness.
"Another striking example also occurred. Among the beautiful women in
which our northern capital assuredly is not poor, one decidedly
surpassed the rest. Her loveliness was a combination of our Northern
charms with those of the South, a gem such as rarely makes its
appearance on earth. My father said that he had never beheld anything
like it in the whole course of his life. Everything seemed to be
united in her, wealth, intellect, and wit. She had throngs of
admirers, the most distinguished of them being Prince R., the most
noble-minded of all young men, the finest in face, and an ideal of
romance in his magnanimous and knightly sentiments. Prince R. was
passionately in love, and was requited by a like ardent passion.
"But the match seemed unequal to the parents. The prince's family
estates had not been in his possession for a long time, his family was
out of favour, and the sad state of his affairs was well known to all.
Of a sudden the prince quitted the capital, as if for the purpose of
arranging his affairs, and after a short interval reappeared,
surrounded with luxury and splendour. Brilliant balls and parties made
him known at court. The lady's father began to relent, and the wedding
took place. Whence this change in circumstances, this
unheard-of-wealth, came, no one could fully explain; but it was
whispered that he had entered into a compact with the mysterious
usurer, and had borrowed money of him. However that may have been, the
wedding was a source of interest to the whole city, and the bride and
bridegroom were objects of general envy. Every one knew of their warm
and faithful love, the long persecution they had had to endure from
every quarter, the great personal worth of both. Ardent women at once
sketched out the heavenly bliss which the young couple would enjoy.
But it turned out very differently.
"In the course of a year a frightful change came over the husband. His
character, up to that time so noble, became poisoned with jealous
suspicions, irritability, and inexhaustible caprices. He became a
tyrant to his wife, a thing which no one could have foreseen, and
indulged in the most inhuman deeds, and even in blows. In a year's
time no one would have recognised the woman who, such a little while
before, had dazzled and drawn about her throngs of submissive adorers.
Finally, no longer able to endure her lot, she proposed a divorce. Her
husband flew into a rage at the very suggestion. In the first outburst
of passion, he chased her about the room with a knife, and would
doubtless have murdered her then and there, if they had not seized him
and prevented him. In a fit of madness and despair he turned the knife
against himself, and ended his life amid the most horrible sufferings.
"Besides these two instances which occurred before the eyes of all the
world, stories circulated of many more among the lower classes, nearly
all of which had tragic endings. Here an honest sober man became a
drunkard; there a shopkeeper's clerk robbed his master; again, a
driver who had conducted himself properly for a number of years cut
his passenger's throat for a groschen. It was impossible that such
occurrences, related, not without embellishments, should not inspire a
sort of involuntary horror amongst the sedate inhabitants of Kolomna.
No one entertained any doubt as to the presence of an evil power in
the usurer. They said that he imposed conditions which made the hair
rise on one's head, and which the miserable wretch never afterward
dared reveal to any other being; that his money possessed a strange
power of attraction; that it grew hot of itself, and that it bore
strange marks. And it is worthy of remark, that all the colony of
Kolomna, all these poor old women, small officials, petty artists, and
insignificant people whom we have just recapitulated, agreed that it
was better to endure anything, and to suffer the extreme of misery,
rather than to have recourse to the terrible usurer. Old women were
even found dying of hunger, who preferred to kill their bodies rather
than lose their soul. Those who met him in the street experienced an
involuntary sense of fear. Pedestrians took care to turn aside from
his path, and gazed long after his tall, receding figure. In his face
alone there was sufficient that was uncommon to cause any one to
ascribe to him a supernatural nature. The strong features, so deeply
chiselled; the glowing bronze of his complexion; the incredible
thickness of his brows; the intolerable, terrible eyes--everything
seemed to indicate that the passions of other men were pale compared
to those raging within him. My father stopped short every time he met
him, and could not refrain each time from saying, 'A devil, a perfect
devil!' But I must introduce you as speedily as possible to my father,
the chief character of this story.
"My father was a remarkable man in many respects. He was an artist of
rare ability, a self-taught artist, without teachers or schools,
principles and rules, carried away only by the thirst for perfection,
and treading a path indicated by his own instincts, for reasons
unknown, perchance, even to himself. Through some lofty and secret
instinct he perceived the presence of a soul in every object. And this
secret instinct and personal conviction turned his brush to Christian
subjects, grand and lofty to the last degree. His was a strong
character: he was an honourable, upright, even rough man, covered with
a sort of hard rind without, not entirely lacking in pride, and given
to expressing himself both sharply and scornfully about people. He
worked for very small results; that is to say, for just enough to
support his family and obtain the materials he needed; he never, under
any circumstances, refused to aid any one, or to lend a helping hand
to a poor artist; and he believed with the simple, reverent faith of
his ancestors. At length, by his unintermitting labour and
perseverance in the path he had marked out for himself, he began to
win the approbation of those who honoured his self-taught talent. They
gave him constant orders for churches, and he never lacked employment.
"One of his paintings possessed a strong interest for him. I no longer
recollect the exact subject: I only know that he needed to represent
the Spirit of Darkness in it. He pondered long what form to give him:
he wished to concentrate in his face all that weighs down and
oppresses a man. In the midst of his meditations there suddenly
occurred to his mind the image of the mysterious usurer; and he
thought involuntarily, 'That's how I ought to paint the Devil!'
Imagine his amazement when one day, as he was at work in his studio,
he heard a knock at the door, and directly after there entered that
same terrible usurer.
"'You are an artist?' he said to my father abruptly.
"'I am,' answered my father in surprise, waiting for what should come
"'Good! Paint my portrait. I may possibly die soon. I have no
children; but I do not wish to die completely, I wish to live. Can you
paint a portrait that shall appear as though it were alive?'
"My father reflected, 'What could be better! he offers himself for the
Devil in my picture.' He promised. They agreed upon a time and price;
and the next day my father took palette and brushes and went to the
usurer's house. The lofty court-yard, dogs, iron doors and locks,
arched windows, coffers, draped with strange covers, and, last of all,
the remarkable owner himself, seated motionless before him, all
produced a strange impression on him. The windows seemed intentionally
so encumbered below that they admitted the light only from the top.
'Devil take him, how well his face is lighted!' he said to himself,
and began to paint assiduously, as though afraid that the favourable
light would disappear. 'What power!' he repeated to himself. 'If I
only accomplish half a likeness of him, as he is now, it will surpass
all my other works: he will simply start from the canvas if I am only
partly true to nature. What remarkable features!' He redoubled his
energy; and began himself to notice how some of his sitter's traits
were making their appearance on the canvas.
"But the more closely he approached resemblance, the more conscious he
became of an aggressive, uneasy feeling which he could not explain to
himself. Notwithstanding this, he set himself to copy with literal
accuracy every trait and expression. First of all, however, he busied
himself with the eyes. There was so much force in those eyes, that it
seemed impossible to reproduce them exactly as they were in nature.
But he resolved, at any price, to seek in them the most minute
characteristics and shades, to penetrate their secret. As soon,
however, as he approached them in resemblance, and began to redouble
his exertions, there sprang up in his mind such a terrible feeling of
repulsion, of inexplicable expression, that he was forced to lay aside
his brush for a while and begin anew. At last he could bear it no
longer: he felt as if these eyes were piercing into his soul, and
causing intolerable emotion. On the second and third days this grew
still stronger. It became horrible to him. He threw down his brush,
and declared abruptly that he could paint the stranger no longer. You
should have seen how the terrible usurer changed countenance at these
words. He threw himself at his feet, and besought him to finish the
portrait, saying that his fate and his existence depended on it; that
he had already caught his prominent features; that if he could
reproduce them accurately, his life would be preserved in his portrait
in a supernatural manner; that by that means he would not die
completely; that it was necessary for him to continue to exist in the
"My father was frightened by these words: they seemed to him strange
and terrible to such a degree, that he threw down his brushes and
palette and rushed headlong from the room.
"The thought of it troubled him all day and all night; but the next
morning he received the portrait from the usurer, by a woman who was
the only creature in his service, and who announced that her master
did not want the portrait, and would pay nothing for it, and had sent
it back. On the evening of the same day he learned that the usurer was
dead, and that preparations were in progress to bury him according to
the rites of his religion. All this seemed to him inexplicably
strange. But from that day a marked change showed itself in his
character. He was possessed by a troubled, uneasy feeling, of which he
was unable to explain the cause; and he soon committed a deed which no
one could have expected of him. For some time the works of one of his
pupils had been attracting the attention of a small circle of
connoisseurs and amateurs. My father had perceived his talent, and
manifested a particular liking for him in consequence. Suddenly the
general interest in him and talk about him became unendurable to my
father who grew envious of him. Finally, to complete his vexation, he
learned that his pupil had been asked to paint a picture for a
recently built and wealthy church. This enraged him. 'No, I will not
permit that fledgling to triumph!' said he: 'it is early, friend, to
think of consigning old men to the gutters. I still have powers, God
be praised! We'll soon see which will put down the other.'
"And this straightforward, honourable man employed intrigues which he
had hitherto abhorred. He finally contrived that there should be a
competition for the picture which other artists were permitted to
enter into. Then he shut himself up in his room, and grasped his brush
with zeal. It seemed as if he were striving to summon all his strength
up for this occasion. And, in fact, the result turned out to be one of
his best works. No one doubted that he would bear off the palm. The
pictures were placed on exhibition, and all the others seemed to his
as night to day. But of a sudden, one of the members present, an
ecclesiastical personage if I mistake not, made a remark which
surprised every one. 'There is certainly much talent in this artist's
picture,' said he, 'but no holiness in the faces: there is even, on
the contrary, a demoniacal look in the eyes, as though some evil
feeling had guided the artist's hand.' All looked, and could not but
acknowledge the truth of these words. My father rushed forward to his
picture, as though to verify for himself this offensive remark, and
perceived with horror that he had bestowed the usurer's eyes upon
nearly all the figures. They had such a diabolical gaze that he
involuntarily shuddered. The picture was rejected; and he was forced
to hear, to his indescribable vexation, that the palm was awarded to
his pupil.
"It is impossible to describe the state of rage in which he returned
home. He almost killed my mother, he drove the children away, broke
his brushes and easels, tore down the usurer's portrait from the wall,
demanded a knife, and ordered a fire to be built in the chimney,
intending to cut it in pieces and burn it. A friend, an artist, caught
him in the act as he entered the room--a jolly fellow, always
satisfied with himself, inflated by unattainable wishes, doing daily
anything that came to hand, and taking still more gaily to his dinner
and little carouses.
"'What are you doing? What are you preparing to burn?' he asked, and
stepped up to the portrait. 'Why, this is one of your very best works.
It is the usurer who died a short time ago: yes, it is a most perfect
likeness. You did not stop until you had got into his very eyes. Never
did eyes look as these do now.'
"'Well, I'll see how they look in the fire!' said my father, making a
movement to fling the portrait into the grate.
"'Stop, for Heaven's sake!' exclaimed his friend, restraining him:
'give it to me, rather, if it offends your eyes to such a degree.' My
father resisted, but yielded at length; and the jolly fellow, well
pleased with his acquisition, carried the portrait home with him.
"When he was gone, my father felt more calm. The burden seemed to have
disappeared from his soul in company with the portrait. He was
surprised himself at his evil feelings, his envy, and the evident
change in his character. Reviewing his acts, he became sad at heart;
and not without inward sorrow did he exclaim, 'No, it was God who
punished me! my picture, in fact, was meant to ruin my brother-man. A
devilish feeling of envy guided my brush, and that devilish feeling
must have made itself visible in it.'
"He set out at once to seek his former pupil, embraced him warmly,
begged his forgiveness, and endeavoured as far as possible to excuse
his own fault. His labours continued as before; but his face was more
frequently thoughtful. He prayed more, grew more taciturn, and
expressed himself less sharply about people: even the rough exterior
of his character was modified to some extent. But a certain occurrence
soon disturbed him more than ever. He had seen nothing for a long time
of the comrade who had begged the portrait of him. He had already
decided to hunt him up, when the latter suddenly made his appearance
in his room. After a few words and questions on both sides, he said,
'Well, brother, it was not without cause that you wished to burn that
portrait. Devil take it, there's something horrible about it! I don't
believe in sorcerers; but, begging your pardon, there's an unclean
spirit in it.'
"'How so?' asked my father.
"'Well, from the very moment I hung it up in my room I felt such
depression--just as if I wanted to murder some one. I never knew in my
life what sleeplessness was; but I suffered not from sleeplessness
alone, but from such dreams!--I cannot tell whether they were dreams,
or what; it was as if a demon were strangling one: and the old man
appeared to me in my sleep. In short, I can't describe my state of
mind. I had a sensation of fear, as if expecting something unpleasant.
I felt as if I could not speak a cheerful or sincere word to any one:
it was just as if a spy were sitting over me. But from the very hour
that I gave that portrait to my nephew, who asked for it, I felt as if
a stone had been rolled from my shoulders, and became cheerful, as you
see me now. Well, brother, you painted the very Devil!'
"During this recital my father listened with unswerving attention, and
finally inquired, 'And your nephew now has the portrait?'
"'My nephew, indeed! he could not stand it!' said the jolly fellow:
'do you know, the soul of that usurer has migrated into it; he jumps
out of the frame, walks about the room; and what my nephew tells of
him is simply incomprehensible. I should take him for a lunatic, if I
had not undergone a part of it myself. He sold it to some collector of
pictures; and he could not stand it either, and got rid of it to some
one else.'
"This story produced a deep impression on my father. He grew seriously
pensive, fell into hypochondria, and finally became fully convinced
that his brush had served as a tool of the Devil; and that a portion
of the usurer's vitality had actually passed into the portrait, and
was now troubling people, inspiring diabolical excitement, beguiling
painters from the true path, producing the fearful torments of envy,
and so forth. Three catastrophes which occurred afterwards, three
sudden deaths of wife, daughter, and infant son, he regarded as a
divine punishment on him, and firmly resolved to withdraw from the
"As soon as I was nine years old, he placed me in an academy of
painting, and, paying all his debts, retired to a lonely cloister,
where he soon afterwards took the vows. There he amazed every one by
the strictness of his life, and his untiring observance of all the
monastic rules. The prior of the monastery, hearing of his skill in
painting, ordered him to paint the principal picture in the church.
But the humble brother said plainly that he was unworthy to touch a
brush, that his was contaminated, that with toil and great sacrifice
must he first purify his spirit in order to render himself fit to
undertake such a task. He increased the rigours of monastic life for
himself as much as possible. At last, even they became insufficient,
and he retired, with the approval of the prior, into the desert, in
order to be quite alone. There he constructed himself a cell from
branches of trees, ate only uncooked roots, dragged about a stone from
place to place, stood in one spot with his hands lifted to heaven,
from the rising until the going down of the sun, reciting prayers
without cessation. In this manner did he for several years exhaust his
body, invigorating it, at the same time, with the strength of fervent
"At length, one day he returned to the cloister, and said firmly to
the prior, 'Now I am ready. If God wills, I will finish my task.' The
subject he selected was the Birth of Christ. A whole year he sat over
it, without leaving his cell, barely sustaining himself with coarse
food, and praying incessantly. At the end of the year the picture was
ready. It was a really wonderful work. Neither prior nor brethren knew
much about painting; but all were struck with the marvellous holiness
of the figures. The expression of reverent humility and gentleness in
the face of the Holy Mother, as she bent over the Child; the deep
intelligence in the eyes of the Holy Child, as though he saw something
afar; the triumphant silence of the Magi, amazed by the Divine
Miracle, as they bowed at his feet: and finally, the indescribable
peace which emanated from the whole picture--all this was presented
with such strength and beauty, that the impression it made was
magical. All the brethren threw themselves on their knees before it;
and the prior, deeply affected, exclaimed, 'No, it is impossible for
any artist, with the assistance only of earthly art, to produce such a
picture: a holy, divine power has guided thy brush, and the blessing
of Heaven rested upon thy labour!'
"By that time I had completed my education at the academy, received
the gold medal, and with it the joyful hope of a journey to Italy--the
fairest dream of a twenty-year-old artist. It only remained for me to
take leave of my father, from whom I had been separated for twelve
years. I confess that even his image had long faded from my memory. I
had heard somewhat of his grim saintliness, and rather expected to
meet a hermit of rough exterior, a stranger to everything in the
world, except his cell and his prayers, worn out, tried up, by eternal
fasting and penance. But how great was my surprise when a handsome old
man stood before me! No traces of exhaustion were visible on his
countenance: it beamed with the light of a heavenly joy. His beard,
white as snow, and his thin, almost transparent hair of the same
silvery hue, fell picturesquely upon his breast, and upon the folds of
his black gown, even to the rope with which his poor monastic garb was
girded. But most surprising to me of all was to hear from his mouth
such words and thoughts about art as, I confess, I long shall bear in
mind, and I sincerely wish that all my comrades would do the same.
"'I expected you, my son,' he said, when I approached for his
blessing. 'The path awaits you in which your life is henceforth to
flow. Your path is pure--desert it not. You have talent: talent is the
most priceless of God's gifts--destroy it not. Search out, subject all
things to your brush; but in all see that you find the hidden soul,
and most of all, strive to attain to the grand secret of creation.
Blessed is the elect one who masters that! There is for him no mean
object in nature. In lowly themes the artist creator is as great as in
great ones: in the despicable there is nothing for him to despise, for
it passes through the purifying fire of his mind. An intimation of
God's heavenly paradise is contained for the artist in art, and by
that alone is it higher than all else. But by as much as triumphant
rest is grander than every earthly emotion, by so much is the lofty
creation of art higher than everything else on earth. Sacrifice
everything to it, and love it with passion--not with the passion
breathing with earthly desire, but a peaceful, heavenly passion. It
cannot plant discord in the spirit, but ascends, like a resounding
prayer, eternally to God. But there are moments, dark moments--' He
paused, and I observed that his bright face darkened, as though some
cloud crossed it for a moment. 'There is one incident of my life,' he
said. 'Up to this moment, I cannot understand what that terrible being
was of whom I painted a likeness. It was certainly some diabolical
apparition. I know that the world denies the existence of the Devil,
and therefore I will not speak of him. I will only say that I painted
him with repugnance: I felt no liking for my work, even at the time. I
tried to force myself, and, stifling every emotion in a hard-hearted
way, to be true to nature. I have been informed that this portrait is
passing from hand to hand, and sowing unpleasant impressions,
inspiring artists with feelings of envy, of dark hatred towards their
brethren, with malicious thirst for persecution and oppression. May
the Almighty preserve you from such passions! There is nothing more
"He blessed and embraced me. Never in my life was I so grandly moved.
Reverently, rather than with the feeling of a son, I leaned upon his
breast, and kissed his scattered silver locks.
"Tears shone in his eyes. 'Fulfil my one request, my son,' said he, at
the moment of parting. 'You may chance to see the portrait I have
mentioned somewhere. You will know it at once by the strange eyes, and
their peculiar expression. Destroy it at any cost.'
"Judge for yourselves whether I could refuse to promise, with an oath,
to fulfil this request. In the space of fifteen years I had never
succeeded in meeting with anything which in any way corresponded to
the description given me by my father, until now, all of a sudden, at
an auction--"
The artist did not finish his sentence, but turned his eyes to the
wall in order to glance once more at the portrait. The entire throng
of auditors made the same movement, seeking the wonderful portrait
with their eyes. But, to their extreme amazement, it was no longer on
the wall. An indistinct murmur and exclamation ran through the crowd,
and then was heard distinctly the word, "stolen." Some one had
succeeded in carrying it off, taking advantage of the fact that the
attention of the spectators was distracted by the story. And those
present long remained in a state of surprise, not knowing whether they
had really seen those remarkable eyes, or whether it was simply a
dream which had floated for an instant before their eyesight, strained
with long gazing at old pictures.
The town of B-- had become very lively since a cavalry regiment had
taken up its quarters in it. Up to that date it had been mortally
wearisome there. When you happened to pass through the town and
glanced at its little mud houses with their incredibly gloomy aspect,
the pen refuses to express what you felt. You suffered a terrible
uneasiness as if you had just lost all your money at play, or had
committed some terrible blunder in company. The plaster covering the
houses, soaked by the rain, had fallen away in many places from their
walls, which from white had become streaked and spotted, whilst old
reeds served to thatch them.
Following a custom very common in the towns of South Russia, the chief
of police has long since had all the trees in the gardens cut down to
improve the view. One never meets anything in the town, unless it is a
cock crossing the road, full of dust and soft as a pillow. At the
slightest rain this dust is turned into mud, and then all the streets
are filled with pigs. Displaying to all their grave faces, they utter
such grunts that travellers only think of pressing their horses to get
away from them as soon as possible. Sometimes some country gentleman
of the neighbourhood, the owner of a dozen serfs, passes in a vehicle
which is a kind of compromise between a carriage and a cart,
surrounded by sacks of flour, and whipping up his bay mare with her
colt trotting by her side. The aspect of the marketplace is mournful
enough. The tailor's house sticks out very stupidly, not squarely to
the front but sideways. Facing it is a brick house with two windows,
unfinished for fifteen years past, and further on a large wooden
market-stall standing by itself and painted mud-colour. This stall,
which was to serve as a model, was built by the chief of police in the
time of his youth, before he got into the habit of falling asleep
directly after dinner, and of drinking a kind of decoction of dried
goose-berries every evening. All around the rest of the market-place
are nothing but palings. But in the centre are some little sheds where
a packet of round cakes, a stout woman in a red dress, a bar of soap,
some pounds of bitter almonds, some lead, some cotton, and two shopmen
playing at "svaika," a game resembling quoits, are always to be seen.
But on the arrival of the cavalry regiment everything changed. The
streets became more lively and wore quite another aspect. Often from
their little houses the inhabitants would see a tall and well-made
officer with a plumed hat pass by, on his way to the quarters of one
of his comrades to discuss the chances of promotion or the qualities
of a new tobacco, or perhaps to risk at play his carriage, which might
indeed be called the carriage of all the regiment, since it belonged
in turn to every one of them. To-day it was the major who drove out in
it, to-morrow it was seen in the lieutenant's coach-house, and a week
later the major's servant was again greasing its wheels. The long
hedges separating the houses were suddenly covered with soldiers' caps
exposed to the sun, grey frieze cloaks hung in the doorways, and
moustaches harsh and bristling as clothes brushes were to be met with
in all the streets. These moustaches showed themselves everywhere, but
above all at the market, over the shoulders of the women of the place
who flocked there from all sides to make their purchases. The officers
lent great animation to society at B--.
Society consisted up till then of the judge who was living with a
deacon's wife, and of the chief of police, a very sensible man, but
one who slept all day long from dinner till evening, and from evening
till dinner-time.
This general liveliness was still further increased when the town of
B-- became the residence of the general commanding the brigade to
which the regiment belonged. Many gentlemen of the neighbourhood,
whose very existence no one had even suspected, began to come into the
town with the intention of calling on the officers, or, perhaps, of
playing bank, a game concerning which they had up till then only a
very confused notion, occupied as they were with their crops and the
commissions of their wives and their hare-hunting. I am very sorry
that I cannot recollect for what reason the general made up his mind
one fine day to give a grand dinner. The preparations were
overwhelming. The clatter of knives in the kitchen was heard as far as
the town gates. The whole of the market was laid under contributions,
so much so that the judge and the deacon's wife found themselves
obliged that day to be satisfied with hasty puddings and cakes of
flour. The little courtyard of the house occupied by the general was
crowded with vehicles. The company only consisted of men, officers and
gentlemen of the neighbourhood.
Amongst these latter was above all conspicuous Pythagoras
Pythagoravitch Tchertokoutski, one of the leading aristocrats of the
district of B--, the most fiery orator at the nobiliary elections and
the owner of a very elegant turn-out. He had served in a cavalry
regiment and had even passed for one of its most accomplished
officers, having constantly shown himself at all the balls and parties
wherever his regiment was quartered. Information respecting him may be
asked of all the young ladies in the districts of Tamboff and
Simbirsk. He would very probably have further extended his reputation
in other districts if he had not been obliged to leave the service in
consequence of one of those affairs which are spoken of as "a very
unpleasant business." Had he given or received a blow? I cannot say
with certainty, but what is indisputable is that he was asked to send
in his resignation. However, this accident had no unpleasant effect
upon the esteem in which he had been held up till then.
Tchertokoutski always wore a coat of a military cut, spurs and
moustache, in order not to have it supposed that he had served in the
infantry, a branch of the service upon which he lavished the most
contemptuous expressions. He frequented the numerous fairs to which
flock the whole of the population of Southern Russia, consisting of
nursemaids, tall girls, and burly gentlemen who go there in vehicles
of such strange aspect that no one has ever seen their match even in a
dream. He instinctively guessed the spot in which a regiment of
cavalry was to be found and never failed to introduce himself to the
officers. On perceiving them he bounded gracefully from his light
phaeton and soon made acquaintance with them. At the last election he
had given to the whole of the nobility a grand dinner during which he
declared that if he were elected marshal he would put all gentlemen on
the best possible footing. He usually behaved after the fashion of a
great noble. He had married a rather pretty lady with a dowry of two
hundred serfs and some thousands of rubles. This money was at once
employed in the purchase of six fine horses, some gilt bronze locks,
and a tame monkey. He further engaged a French cook. The two hundred
peasants of the lady, as well as two hundred more belonging to the
gentleman, were mortgaged to the bank. In a word, he was a regular
nobleman. Besides himself, several other gentlemen were amongst the
general's guests, but it is not worth while speaking of them. The
officers of the regiment, amongst whom were the colonel and the fat
major, formed the majority of those present. The general himself was
rather stout; a good officer, nevertheless, according to his
subordinates. He had a rather deep bass voice.
The dinner was magnificent; there were sturgeons, sterlets, bustards,
asparagus, quail, partridges, mushrooms. The flavour of all these
dishes supplied an irrefutable proof of the sobriety of the cook
during the twenty-four hours preceding the dinner. Four soldiers, who
had been given him as assistants, had not ceased working all night,
knife in hand, at the composition of ragouts and jellies. The immense
quantity of long-necked bottles, mingled with shorter ones, holding
claret and madeira; the fine summer day, the wide-open windows, the
plates piled up with ice on the table, the crumpled shirt-fronts of
the gentlemen in plain clothes, and a brisk and noisy conversation,
now dominated by the general's voice, and now besprinkled with
champagne, were all in perfect harmony. The guests rose from the table
with a pleasant feeling of repletion, and, after having lit their
pipes, all stepped out, coffee-cups in hand, on to the verandah.
"We can see her now," said the general. "Here, my dear fellow," added
he, addressing his aide-de-camp, an active well-made young officer,
"have the bay mare brought here. You shall see for yourselves,
At these words the general took a long pull at his pipe.
"She is not quite recovered yet; there is not a decent stable in this
cursed little place. But she is not bad looking--" puff--puff, the
general here let out the smoke which he had kept in his mouth till
then--"the little mare."
"It is long since your excellency--" puff--puff--puff--"condescended
to buy her?" asked Tchertokoutski.
Puff--puff--puff--puff. "Not very long, I had her from the breeding
establishment two years ago."
"And did your excellency condescend to take her ready broken, or to
have her broken in here yourself?"
Puff--puff--puff--puff. "Here."
As he spoke the general disappeared behind a cloud of smoke.
At that moment a soldier jumped out of the stable. The trampling of a
horse's hoofs was heard, and another soldier with immense moustaches,
and wearing a long white tunic, appeared, leading by the bridle the
terrified and quivering mare, which, suddenly rearing, lifted him off
his feet.
"Come, come, Agrafena Ivanovna," said he, leading her towards the
The mare's name was Agrafena Ivanovna. Strong and bold as a Southern
beauty, she suddenly became motionless.
The general began to look at her with evident satisfaction, and left
off smoking. The colonel himself went down the steps and patted her
neck. The major ran his hand down her legs, and all the other officers
clicked their tongues at her.
Tchertokoutski left the verandah to take up a position beside the
mare. The soldier who held her bridle drew himself up and stared
fixedly at the guests.
"She is very fine, very fine," said Tchertokoutski, "a very
well-shaped beast. Will your excellency allow me to ask whether she is
a good goer?"
"She goes well, but that idiot of a doctor, deuce take him, has given
her some balls which have made her sneeze for the last two days."
"She is a fine beast, a very fine beast. Has your excellency a
turn-out to match the horse?"
"Turn-out! but she's a saddle horse."
"I know. I put the question, your excellency, to know if you have an
equipage worthy of your other horses?"
"No, I have not much in the way of equipages; I must admit that, for
some time past, I have been wanting to buy a calash, such as they
build now-a-days. I have written about it to my brother who is now at
St. Petersburg, but I do not know whether he will be able to send me
"It seems to me, your excellency," remarked the colonel, "that there
are no better calashes than those of Vienna."
"You are right." Puff--puff--puff.
"I have an excellent calash, your excellency, a real Viennese calash,"
said Tchertokoutski.
"That in which you came?"
"Oh no, I make use of that for ordinary service, but the other is
something extraordinary. It is as light as a feather, and if you sit
in it, it seems as if your nurse was rocking you in a cradle."
"It is very comfortable then?"
"Extremely comfortable; the cushions, the springs, and everything else
are perfect."
"Ah! that is good."
"And what a quantity of things can be packed away in it. I have never
seen anything like it, your excellency. When I was still in the
service there was room enough in the body to stow away ten bottles of
rum, twenty pounds of tobacco, six uniforms, and two pipes, the
longest pipes imaginable, your excellency; and in the pockets inside
you could stow away a whole bullock."
"That is very good."
"It cost four thousand rubles, your excellency."
"It ought to be good at that price. Did you buy it yourself?"
"No, your excellency, I had it by chance. It was bought by one of my
oldest friends, a fine fellow with whom you would be very well
pleased. We are very intimate. What is mine is his, and what is his is
mine. I won it of him at cards. Would your excellency have the
kindness to honour me at dinner to-morrow? You could see my calash."
"I don't know what to say. Alone I could not--but if you would allow
me to come with these officers--"
"I beg of them to come too. I shall esteem it a great honour,
gentlemen, to have the pleasure of seeing you at my house."
The colonel, the major, and the other officers thanked Tchertokoutski.
"I am of opinion myself, your excellency, that if one buys anything it
should be good; it is not worth the trouble of getting, if it turns
out bad. If you do me the honour of calling on me to-morrow, I will
show you some improvements I have introduced on my estate."
The general looked at him, and puffed out a fresh cloud of smoke.
Tchertokoutski was charmed with his notion of inviting the officers,
and mentally ordered in advance all manner of dishes for their
entertainment. He smiled at these gentlemen, who on their part
appeared to increase their show of attention towards him, as was
noticeable from the expression of their eyes and the little half-nods
they bestowed upon him. His bearing assumed a certain ease, and his
voice expressed his great satisfaction.
"Your excellency will make the acquaintance of the mistress of the
"That will be most agreeable to me," said the general, twirling his
Tchertokoutski was firmly resolved to return home at once in order to
make all necessary preparations in good time. He had already taken his
hat, but a strange fatality caused him to remain for some time at the
general's. The card tables had been set out, and all the company,
separating into groups of four, scattered itself about the room.
Lights were brought in. Tchertokoutski did not know whether he ought
to sit down to whist. But as the officers invited him, he thought that
the rules of good breeding obliged him to accept. He sat down. I do
not know how a glass of punch found itself at his elbow, but he drank
it off without thinking. After playing two rubbers, he found another
glass close to his hand which he drank off in the same way, though not
without remarking:
"It is really time for me to go, gentlemen."
He began to play a fresh rubber. However, the conversation which was
going on in every corner of the room took an especial turn. Those who
were playing whist were quiet enough, but the others talked a great
deal. A captain had taken up his position on a sofa, and leaning
against a cushion, pipe in mouth, he captivated the attention of a
circle of guests gathered about him by his eloquent narrative of
amorous adventures. A very stout gentleman whose arms were so short
that they looked like two potatoes hanging by his sides, listened to
him with a very satisfied expression, and from time to time exerted
himself to pull his tobacco-pouch out of his coat-tail pocket. A
somewhat brisk discussion on cavalry drill had arisen in another
corner, and Tchertokoutski, who had twice already played a knave for a
king, mingled in the conversation by calling out from his place: "In
what year?" or "What regiment?" without noticing that very often his
question had no application whatever. At length, a few minutes before
supper, play came to an end. Tchertokoutski could remember that he had
won a great deal, but he did not take up his winnings, and after
rising stood for some time in the position of a man who has no
handkerchief in his pocket.
They sat down to supper. As might be expected, wine was not lacking,
and Tchertokoutski kept involuntarily filling his glass with it, for
he was surrounded with bottles. A lengthy conversation took place at
table, but the guests carried it on after a strange fashion. A
colonel, who had served in 1812, described a battle which had never
taken place; and besides, no one ever could make out why he took a
cork and stuck it into a pie. They began to break-up at three in the
morning. The coachmen were obliged to take several of them in their
arms like bundles; and Tchertokoutski himself, despite his
aristocratic pride, bowed so low to the company, that he took home two
thistles in his moustache.
The coachman who drove him home found every one asleep. He routed out,
after some trouble, the valet, who, after having ushered his master
through the hall, handed him over to a maid-servant. Tchertokoutski
followed her as well as he could to the best room, and stretched
himself beside his pretty young wife, who was sleeping in a night-gown
as white as snow. The shock of her husband falling on the bed awoke
her--she stretched out her arms, opened her eyes, closed them quickly,
and then opened them again quite wide, with a half-vexed air. Seeing
that her husband did not pay the slightest attention to her, she
turned over on the other side, rested her fresh and rosy cheek on her
hand, and went to sleep again.
It was late--that is, according to country customs--when the lady
awoke again. Her husband was snoring more loudly than ever. She
recollected that he had come home at four o'clock, and not wishing to
awaken him, got up alone, and put on her slippers, which her husband
had had sent for her from St. Petersburg, and a white dressing-gown
which fell about her like the waters of a fountain. Then she passed
into her dressing-room, and after washing in water as fresh as
herself, went to her toilet table. She looked at herself twice in the
glass, and thought she looked very pretty that morning. This
circumstance, a very insignificant one apparently, caused her to stay
two hours longer than usual before her glass. She dressed herself very
tastefully and went into the garden.
The weather was splendid: it was one of the finest days of the summer.
The sun, which had almost reached the meridian, shed its most ardent
rays; but a pleasant coolness reigned under the leafy arcades; and the
flowers, warmed by the sun, exhaled their sweetest perfume. The pretty
mistress of the house had quite forgotten that it was noon at least,
and that her husband was still asleep. Already she heard the snores of
two coachmen and a groom, who were taking their siesta in the stable,
after having dined copiously. But she was still sitting in a bower
from which the deserted high road could be seen, when all at once her
attention was caught by a light cloud of dust rising in the distance.
After looking at it for some moments, she ended by making out several
vehicles, closely following one another. First came a light calash,
with two places, in which was the general, wearing his large and
glittering epaulettes, with the colonel. This was followed by another
with four places, containing the captain, the aide-de-camp and two
lieutenants. Further on, came the celebrated regimental vehicle, the
present owner of which was the major, and behind that another in which
were packed five officers, one on his comrade's knees, the procession
being closed by three more on three fine bays.
"Are they coming here?" thought the mistress of the house. "Good
heavens, yes! they are leaving the main road."
She gave a cry, clasped her hands, and ran straight across the
flower-beds to her bedroom, where her husband was still sleeping
"Get up! get up! get up at once," she cried, pulling him by the arm.
"What--what's the matter?" murmured Tchertokoutski, stretching his
limbs without opening his eyes.
"Get up, get up. Visitors have come, do you hear? visitors."
"Visitors, what visitors?" After saying these words he uttered a
little plaintive grunt like that of a sucking calf: "M-m-m. Let me
kiss you."
"My dear, get up at once, for heaven's sake. The general has come with
all his officers. Ah! goodness, you have got a thistle in your
"The general! Has he come already? But why the deuce did not they wake
me? And the dinner, is the dinner ready?"
"What dinner?"
"But haven't I ordered a dinner?"
"A dinner! You got home at four o'clock in the morning and you did not
answer a single word to all my questions. I did not wake you, since
you had so little sleep."
Tchertokoutski, his eyes staring out of his head, remained motionless
for some moments as though a thunderbolt had struck him. All at once
he jumped out of bed in his shirt.
"Idiot that I am," he exclaimed, clasping his hand to his forehead; "I
had invited them to dinner. What is to be done? are they far off?"
"They will be here in a moment."
"My dear, hide yourself. Ho there, somebody. Hi there, you girl. Come
here, you fool; what are you afraid of? The officers are coming here;
tell them I am not at home, that I went out early this morning, that I
am not coming back. Do you understand? Go and repeat it to all the
servants. Be off, quick."
Having uttered these words, he hurriedly slipped on his dressing-gown,
and ran off to shut himself up in the coach-house, which he thought
the safest hiding-place. But he fancied that he might be noticed in
the corner in which he had taken refuge.
"This will be better," said he to himself, letting down the steps of
the nearest vehicle, which happened to be the calash. He jumped
inside, closed the door, and, as a further precaution, covered himself
with the leather apron. There he remained, wrapped in his
dressing-gown, in a doubled-up position.
During this time the equipages had drawn up before the porch. The
general got out of his carriage and shook himself, followed by the
colonel, arranging the feathers in his hat. After him came the stout
major, his sabre under his arm, and the slim lieutenants, whilst the
mounted officers also alighted.
"The master is not at home," said a servant appearing at the top of a
flight of steps.
"What! not at home; but he is coming home for dinner, is he not?"
"No, he is not; he has gone out for the day and will not be back till
this time to-morrow."
"Bless me," said the general; "but what the deuce--"
"What a joke," said the colonel laughing.
"No, no, such things are inconceivable," said the general angrily. "If
he could not receive us, why did he invite us?"
"I cannot understand, your excellency, how it is possible to act in
such a manner," observed a young officer.
"What?" said the general, who always made an officer under the rank of
captain repeat his remarks twice over.
"I wondered, your excellency, how any one could do such a thing."
"Quite so; if anything has happened he ought to have let us know."
"There is nothing to be done, your excellency, we had better go back
home," said the colonel.
"Certainly, there is nothing to be done. However, we can see the
calash without him; probably he has not taken it with him. Come here,
my man."
"What does your excellency want?"
"Show us your master's new calash."
"Have the kindness to step this way to the coach-house."
The general entered the coach-house followed by his officers.
"Let me pull it a little forward, your excellency," said the servant,
"it is rather dark here."
"That will do."
The general and his officers walked around the calash, carefully
inspecting the wheels and springs.
"There is nothing remarkable about it," said the general; "it is a
very ordinary calash."
"Nothing to look at," added the colonel; "there is absolutely nothing
good about it."
"It seems to me, your excellency, that it is not worth four thousand
rubles," remarked a young officer.
"I said, your excellency, that I do not think that it is worth four
thousand rubles."
"Four thousand! It is not worth two. Perhaps, however, the inside is
well fitted. Unbutton the apron."
And Tchertokoutski appeared before the officers' eyes, clad in his
dressing-gown and doubled up in a singular fashion.
"Hullo, there you are," said the astonished general.
Then he covered Tchertokoutski up again and went off with his

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