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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Podbipienta’s Death

By Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916)

  • From ‘With Fire and Sword’: Translation of Jeremiah Curtin
  • [Within the fortifications of Zbaraj the Poles are closely besieged. Their only hope lies in getting news of their plight to the King. The four comrades Pan Longin Podbipienta, Pan Yan Skshetuski, Pan Michael Volodyovski, and Pan Zagloba, are together on the ramparts, keeping watch.]

  • PAN LONGIN fell into deep thought; his brows were covered with furrows, and he sat a whole hour in silence. Suddenly he raised his head, and spoke with his usual sweetness: “I will undertake to steal through the Cossacks.”

    The knights, hearing these words, sprang from their seats in amazement. Zagloba opened his mouth, Volodyovski’s mustaches quivered, Skshetuski grew pale; and the starosta, striking himself on the breast, cried, “Would you undertake to do this?”

    “Have you considered what you say?” asked Pan Yan.

    “I considered it long ago,” answered the Lithuanian; “for this is not the first day that the knights say that notice must be given the King of our position. And I, hearing this, thought to myself: ‘If the Most High God permits me to fulfill my vow, I will go at once. I am an obscure man: what do I signify? What harm to me, even if I am killed on the road?’”

    “But they will cut you to pieces, without doubt!” cried Zagloba. “Have you heard what the starosta says,—that it is evident death?”

    “What of that, brother? If God wishes he will carry me through; if not, he will reward me in heaven.”

    “But first they will seize you, torture you, give you a fearful death. Have you lost your reason, man?” asked Zagloba.

    “I will go, anyhow,” answered the Lithuanian mildly.

    “A bird could not fly through, for they would shoot it from their bows. They have surrounded us like a badger in his hole.”

    “Still I will go!” repeated the Lithuanian. “I owe thanks to the Lord for permitting me to fulfill my vow.”

    “Well, look at him, examine him!” said Zagloba in desperation. “You had better have your head cut off at once and shoot it from a cannon over the tabor; for in this way alone could you push through them.”

    “But permit me, my friends—” said Pan Longin, clasping his hands.

    “Oh, no: you will not go alone, for I will go with you,” said Skshetuski.

    “And I with you both!” added Volodyovski, striking his sword.

    “And may the bullets strike you!” cried Zagloba, seizing himself by the head. “May the bullets strike you with your ‘And I,’ ‘And I,’ with your daring! They have not had enough blood yet, not enough of destruction, not enough of bullets! What is doing here is not sufficient for them; they want more certainty of having their necks twisted. Go to the dogs, and give me peace! I hope you will be cut to pieces.” When he had said this he began to circle about in the tent as if mad. “God is punishing me,” cried he, “for associating with whirlwinds instead of honorable, solid men. It serves me right.” He walked through the tent awhile longer with feverish tread: at last he stopped before Skshetuski; then putting his hands behind his back and looking into his eyes, began to puff terribly: “What have I done that you persecute me?”

    “God save us!” exclaimed the knight. “What do you mean?”

    “I do not wonder that Podbipienta invents such things: he always had his wit in his fist. But since he has killed the three greatest fools among the Turks he has become the fourth himself—”

    “It is disgusting to hear him,” interrupted the Lithuanian.

    “And I don’t wonder at him,” continued Zagloba, pointing at Volodyovski. “He will jump on a Cossack’s boot-leg, or hold to his trousers as a burr does to a dog’s tail, and get through quicker than any of us. The Holy Spirit has not shone upon either of the two; but that you, instead of restraining their madness, should add excitement to it, that you are going yourself, and wish to expose us four to certain death and torture,—that is the final blow! Tfu! I did not expect this of an officer whom the prince himself has esteemed a valiant knight.”

    “How four?” asked Skshetuski in astonishment. “Do you want to go?”

    “Yes!” cried Zagloba, beating his breast with his fists, “I will go. If any of you go, or all go together, I will go too. My blood be on your heads! I shall know next time with whom to associate.”

    “Well may you!” said Skshetuski.

    The three knights began to embrace him; but he was angry in earnest, and puffed and pushed them away with his elbows saying, “Go to the Devil! I don’t want your Judas kisses.” Then was heard on the walls the firing of cannon and muskets. “There it is for you,—go!”

    “That is ordinary firing,” remarked Pan Yan.

    “Ordinary firing!” repeated Zagloba, mocking him. “Well, just think,—this is not enough for them! Half the army is destroyed by this ordinary firing, and they turn up their noses at it!”

    “Be of good cheer,” said Podbipienta.

    “You ought to keep your mouth shut, Botvinia. You are most to blame: you have invented an undertaking, which if it is not a fool’s errand, then I’m a fool.”

    “But still I’ll go, brother,” said Pan Longin.

    “You’ll go, you’ll go; and I know why. Don’t exhibit yourself as a hero, for they know you. You have virtue for sale, and are in a hurry to take it out of camp. You are the worst among knights, not the best,—simply a drab, trading in virtue. Tfu! an offense to God,—that’s what you are. It is not to the King you want to go, but you would like to snort through the villages like a horse through a meadow. Look at him! There is a knight with virtue for sale! Vexation, vexation, as God is dear to me!”

    “Disgusting to hear him!” cried the Lithuanian, thrusting his fingers in his ears.

    “Let disputes rest,” said Skshetuski seriously. “Better let us think about this question.”

    “In God’s name,” said the starosta, who had listened hitherto with astonishment to Zagloba: “this is a great question, but we can decide nothing without the prince. This is no place for discussion. You are in service and obliged to obey orders. The prince must be in his quarters: let us go to him and see what he will say to your offer.”

    “I agree to that,” answered Zagloba; and hope shone in his face. “Let us go as quickly as possible.”

    They went out and crossed the square, on which already the balls were falling from the Cossack trenches. The troops were at the ramparts, which at a distance looked like booths at a fair, so overhung were they with many-colored clothing and sheepskin coats, packed with wagons, fragments of tents, and every kind of object which might become a shelter against the shots which at times ceased neither day nor night. And now above those rags hung a long bluish line of smoke, and behind them ranks of prostrate red and yellow soldiers, working hard against the nearest trenches of the enemy. The square itself was like a ruin: the level space was cut up with spades, or trampled by horses; it was not made green by a single grass-blade. Here and there were mounds of earth freshly raised by the digging of walls and graves; here and there lay fragments of broken wagons, cannon, barrels, or piles of bones, gnawed and whitening before the sun. Bodies of horses were nowhere visible, for each one was removed immediately as food for the soldiers; but everywhere were piles of iron,—mostly cannon-balls, red from rust, which fell every day on that piece of land. Grievous war and hunger were evident at every step. On their way our knights met greater or smaller groups of soldiers,—some carrying wounded or dead, others hurrying to the ramparts to relieve their overworked comrades. The faces of all were black, sunken, overgrown with beard; their fierce eyes were inflamed, their clothing faded and torn; many had filthy rags on their heads in place of caps or helmets; their weapons were broken. Involuntarily came the question, What will happen a week or two later to that handful hitherto victorious?

    “Look, gentlemen,” said the starosta: “it is time to give notice to the King.”

    “Want is showing its teeth like a dog,” said the little knight.

    “What will happen when we have eaten the horses?” asked Skshetuski.

    Thus conversing, they reached the tents of the prince, situated at the right side of the rampart, before which were a few mounted messengers to carry orders through the camp. Their horses, fed with dried and ground horse-flesh and excited by continual fire, reared restively, unable to stand in one place. This was the case too with all the cavalry horses, which in going against the enemy seemed like a herd of griffins or centaurs going rather by air than by land.

    “Is the prince in the tent?” asked the starosta of one of the horsemen.

    “Yes, with Pan Pshiyemski,” answered the orderly.

    The starosta entered first without announcing himself, but the four knights remained outside. After a while the canvas opened, and Pshiyemski thrust out his head. “The prince is anxious to see you,” said he.

    Zagloba entered the tent in good humor, for he hoped the prince would not expose his best knights to certain death; but he was mistaken, for they had not yet bowed when he said:—

    “The starosta has told me of your readiness to issue from the camp, and I accept your good-will. Too much cannot be sacrificed for the country.”

    “We have only come for permission to try,” said Skshetuski, “since your Highness is the steward of our blood.”

    “Then you want to go together?”

    “Your Highness,” said Zagloba, “they want to go, but I do not. God is my witness that I have not come here to praise myself or to make mention of my services; and if I do mention them, I do so lest some one might suppose that I am afraid. Pan Skshetuski, Volodyovski, and Podbipienta of Myshekishki, are great knights; but Burlai, who fell by my hand (not to speak of other exploits), was also a famous warrior, equal to Burdabut, Bogun, and the three heads of the janissaries. I mean to say by this that in knightly deeds I am not behind others. But heroism is one thing, and madness another. We have no wings, and we cannot go by land; that is certain.”

    “You will not go, then?” said the prince.

    “I have said that I do not wish to go, but I have not said that I will not go. Since God has punished me with their company, I must remain in it till death. If we should be hard pressed, the sabre of Zagloba will be of service yet; but I know not why death should be put upon us four, and I hope that your Highness will avert it from us by not permitting this mad undertaking.”

    “You are a good comrade,” answered the prince, “and it is honorable on your part not to wish to leave your friends; but you are mistaken in your confidence in me, for I accept your offer.”

    “The dog is dead!” muttered Zagloba, and his hands dropped.

    At that moment Firlei, castellan of Belsk, entered the tent. “Your Highness, my people have seized a Cossack, who says that they are preparing an assault for to-night.”

    “I have received information too,” answered the prince. “All is ready, only let our people hurry with the ramparts.”

    “They are nearly finished.”

    “That is well! We will occupy them in the evening.” Then he turned to the four knights. “It is best to try after the storm, if the night is dark.”

    “How is that?” asked Firlei: “are you preparing a sally?”

    “The sally in its own order,—I will lead it myself; but now we are talking about something else. These gentlemen undertake to creep through the enemy and inform the King of our condition.”

    The castellan was astonished, opened his eyes, and looked at the knights in succession. The prince smiled with delight. He had this vanity,—he loved to have his soldiers admired.

    “In God’s name!” said the castellan: “there are such hearts then in the world? As God lives, I will not dissuade you from the daring deed.”

    Zagloba was purple from rage; but he said nothing, he only puffed like a bear.

    The prince thought awhile, then said:—

    “I do not wish, however, to spend your blood in vain, and I am not willing that all four should go together. One will go first; if the enemy kill him, they will not delay in boasting of it, as they have once already boasted of the death of my servant whom they seized at Lvoff. If they kill the first, the second will go; afterward in case of necessity the third and the fourth. But perhaps the first will pass through; in such an event I do not wish to expose the others to a useless death.”

    “Your Highness—” interrupted Skshetuski.

    “This is my will and command,” said Yeremi with emphasis. “To bring you to agreement, I say that he shall go first who offered himself first.”

    “It was I!” cried Pan Longin with a beaming face.

    “To-night, after the storm, if it is dark,” added the prince. “I will give no letters to the King: you will tell what you have seen,—merely take a signet-ring as credential.”

    Podbipienta took the signet-ring and bowed to the prince, who caught him by the temples and held him awhile with his two hands; then he kissed him several times on the forehead, and said in a voice of emotion:—

    “You are as near to my heart as a brother. May the God of Hosts and our Queen of Angels carry you through, warrior of the Lord! Amen!”

    “Amen!” repeated Sobieski, the castellan of Belsk, and Pan Pshiyemski.

    The prince had tears in his eyes, for he was a real father to the knights. Others wept, and a quiver of enthusiasm shook the body of Pan Podbipienta. A flame passed through his bones; and rejoiced to its depth was his soul, pure, obedient, and heroic, with the hope of coming sacrifice.

    “History will write of you!” cried the castellan.

    “Non nobis, non nobis, sed nomini tuo, Domine, da gloriam” (Not to us, not to us, but to thy name, O Lord, give the glory), said the prince.

    The knights issued from the tent.

    “Tfu! something has seized me by the throat and holds me,” said Zagloba; “and it is as bitter in my mouth as wormwood, and there they are firing continually. Oh, if the thunders would fire you away!” said he, pointing to the smoking trenches of the Cossacks. “Oh, it is hard to live in this world! Pan Longin, are you really going out? May the angels guard you! If the plague would choke those ruffians!”

    “I must take farewell of you,” said Podbipienta.

    “How is that? Where are you going?” asked Zagloba.

    “To the priest Mukhovetski,—to confess, my brother. I must cleanse my sinful soul.”

    Pan Longin hastened to the castle; the others returned to the ramparts. Skshetuski and Volodyovski were silent, but Zagloba said:—

    “Something holds me by the throat. I did not think to be sorrowful, but that is the worthiest man in the world. If any one contradicts me, I’ll give it to him in the face. O my God, my God! I thought the castellan of Belsk would restrain the prince, but he beat the drums still more. The hangman brought that heretic! ‘History,’ he says, ‘will write of you.’ Let it write of him, but not on the skin of Pan Longin. And why doesn’t he go out himself? He has six toes on his feet, like every Calvinist, and he can walk better. I tell you, gentlemen, that it is getting worse and worse on earth, and Jabkovski is a true prophet when he says that the end of the world is near. Let us sit down awhile at the ramparts, and then go to the castle, so as to console ourselves with the company of our friend till evening at least.”

    But Pan Longin, after confession and communion, spent the whole time in prayer. He made his first appearance at the storm in the evening,—which was one of the most awful, for the Cossacks had struck just when the troops were transporting their cannon and wagons to the newly raised ramparts. For a time it seemed that the slender forces of the Poles would fall before the onrush of two hundred thousand foes. The Polish battalions had become so intermingled with the enemy that they could not distinguish their own, and three times they closed in this fashion. Hmelnitski exerted all his power; for the Khan and his own colonels had told him that this must be the last storm, and that henceforth they would only harass the besieged with hunger. But after three hours, all attacks were repulsed with such terrible losses that according to later reports, forty thousand of the enemy had fallen. One thing is certain,—after the battle a whole bundle of flags was thrown at the feet of the prince; and this was really the last great assault, after which followed more difficult times of digging under the ramparts, capturing wagons, continual firing, suffering, and famine.

    Immediately after the storm the soldiers, ready to drop from weariness, were led by the tireless Yeremi in a sally, which ended in a new defeat for the enemy. Quiet then soothed the tabor and the camp.

    The night was warm but cloudy. Four black forms pushed themselves quietly and carefully to the eastern edge of the ramparts. They were Pan Longin, Zagloba, Skshetuski, and Volodyovski.

    “Guard your pistols well, to keep the powder dry,” whispered Pan Yan. “Two battalions will be ready all night. If you fire, we will spring to the rescue.”

    “Nothing to be seen, even if you strain your eyes out!” whispered Zagloba.

    “That is better,” answered Pan Longin.

    “Be quiet!” interrupted Volodyovski: “I hear something.”

    “That is only the groan of a dying man,—nothing!”

    “If you can only reach the oak grove.”

    “O my God! my God!” sighed Zagloba, trembling as if in a fever.

    “In three hours it will be daylight.”

    “It is time!” said Pan Longin.

    “Time! time!” repeated Skshetuski in a stifled voice. “Go with God!”

    “With God, with God!”

    “Farewell, brothers, and forgive me if I have offended any of you in anything.”

    “You offend? O God!” cried Zagloba, throwing himself into his arms.

    Skshetuski and Volodyovski embraced him in turn. The moment came. Suppressed gulping shook the breasts of these knights. One alone, Pan Longin, was calm, though full of emotion. “Farewell!” he repeated once more; and approaching the edge of the rampart, he dropped into the ditch, and soon appeared as a black figure on the opposite bank. Once more he beckoned farewell to his comrades, and vanished in the gloom.

    Between the road to Zalostsitse and the highway from Vishnyovets grew an oak grove, interspersed with narrow openings. Beyond and joining with it was an old pine forest, thick and large, extending north of Zalostsitse. Podbipienta had determined to reach that grove. The road was very perilous, for to reach the oaks it was necessary to pass along the entire flank of the Cossack tabor; but Pan Longin selected it on purpose, for it was just around the camp that most people were moving during the whole night, and the guards gave least attention to passers-by. Besides, all other roads, valleys, thickets, and narrow places were beset by guards who rode around continually; by essauls, sotniks, and even Hmelnitski himself. A passage through the meadows and along the Gnyezna was not to be dreamt of, for the Cossack horse-herders were watching there from dusk till daylight with their herds.

    The night was gloomy, cloudy, and so dark that at ten paces not only could a man not be seen, but not even a tree. This circumstance was favorable for Pan Longin; though on the other hand he was obliged to go very slowly and carefully, so as not to fall into any of the pits or ditches occupying the whole expanse of the battle-field, and dug by Polish and Cossack hands. In this fashion he made his way to the second Polish rampart, which had been abandoned just before evening, and had passed through the ditch. He stopped and listened; the trenches were empty. The sally made by Yeremi after the storm had pushed the Cossacks out; who either fell, or took refuge in the tabor. A multitude of bodies were lying on the slopes and summits of these mounds. Pan Longin stumbled against bodies every moment, stepped over them, and passed on. From time to time a low groan or sigh announced that some one of the prostrate was living yet.

    Beyond the ramparts there was a broad expanse stretching to another trench made before the arrival of Yeremi, also covered with corpses; but some tens of steps farther on were those earth shelters, like stacks of hay in the darkness. But they were empty. Everywhere the deepest silence reigned,—nowhere a fire or a man; no one on that former square but the prostrate.

    Pan Longin began the prayer for the souls of the dead, and went on. The sounds of the Polish camp, which followed him to the second rampart, grew fainter and fainter, melting in the distance, till at last they ceased altogether. Pan Longin stopped and looked around for the last time. He could see almost nothing, for in the camp there was no light; but one window in the castle glimmered weakly as a star which the clouds now expose and now conceal, or like a glow-worm which shines and darkens in turn.

    “My brothers, shall I see you again in this life?” thought Pan Longin; and sadness pressed him down like a tremendous stone. He was barely able to breathe. There, where that pale light was trembling, are his people; there are brother hearts,—Prince Yeremi, Pan Yan, Volodyovski, Zagloba, the priest Mukhovetski; there they love him and would gladly defend him. But here is night, with desolation, darkness, corpses; under his feet choruses of ghosts; farther on, the blood-devouring tabor of sworn, pitiless enemies. The weight of sadness became so great that it was too heavy even for the shoulders of this giant. His soul began to waver within him.

    In the darkness pale Alarm flew upon him, and began to whisper in his ear, “You will not pass, it is impossible! Return; there is still time! Fire the pistol, and a whole battalion will rush to your aid. Through those tabors, through that savageness, nothing will pass.”

    That starving camp, covered every day with balls, full of death and the odor of corpses, appeared at that moment to Pan Longin a calm, peaceful, safe haven. His friends there would not think ill of him if he returned. He would tell them that the deed passed human power; and they would not go themselves, would not send another,—would wait further for the mercy of God and the coming of the King. But if Skshetuski should go and perish! “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! These are temptations of Satan,” thought Pan Longin. “I am ready for death, and nothing worse can meet me. And this is Satan terrifying a weak soul with desolation, corpses, and darkness; for he makes use of all means.” Will the knight return, cover himself with shame, suffer in reputation, disgrace his name, not save the army, renounce the crown of heaven? Never! And he moved on, stretching out his hands before him.

    Now a murmur reached him again; not from the Polish camp, however, but from the opposite side, still indefinite, but as it were deep and terrible, like the growling of a bear giving sudden answer in a dark forest. Disquiet had now left Pan Longin’s soul; sadness had ceased, and changed into a mere sweet remembrance of those near to him. At last, as if answering that menace coming up from the tabor, he repeated once more in spirit, “But still I will go.”

    After a certain time he found himself on that battle-field where on the first day of the storm the prince’s cavalry had defeated the Cossacks and janissaries. The road here was more even,—fewer pits, ditches, shelters, and no corpses; for those who had fallen in the earlier struggles had been buried by the Cossacks. It was also somewhat clearer, for the ground was not covered with various obstacles. The land inclined gradually toward the north. But Pan Longin turned immediately to the flank, wishing to push through between the western pond and the tabor.

    He went quickly now, without hindrance, and it seemed to him already that he was reaching the line of the tabor, when some new sound caught his attention. He halted at once, and after waiting a quarter of an hour heard the tramp and breathing of horses. “Cossack patrols!” thought he. The voices of men reached his ears. He sprang aside with all speed, and searching with his foot for the first depression in the ground, fell to the earth and stretched out motionless, holding his pistol in one hand and his sword in the other.

    The riders approached still nearer, and at last were abreast of him. It was so dark he could not count them; but he heard every word of their conversation.

    “It is hard for them, but hard for us too,” said some sleepy voice. “And how many good men of ours have bitten the dust!”

    “O Lord!” said another voice, “they say the King is not far. What will become of us?”

    “The Khan got angry with our father; and the Tartars threaten to take us, if there will be no other prisoners.”

    “And in the pastures they fight with our men. Father has forbidden us to go to the Tartar camp, for whoever goes there is lost.”

    “They say there are disguised Poles among the market-men. I wish this war had never begun.”

    “It is worse this time than before.”

    “The King is not far away, with the Polish forces. That is the worst!”

    “Ha, ha! You would be sleeping in the Saitch at this hour; now you have got to push around in the dark like a vampire.”

    “There must be vampires here, for the horses are snorting.”

    The voices receded gradually, and at last were silent. Pan Longin rose and went on.

    A rain fine as mist began to fall. It grew still darker. On the left side of Pan Longin gleamed at the distance of two furlongs a small light; after that a second, a third, and a tenth. Then he knew he was on the line of the tabor. The lights were far apart and weak. It was evident that all were sleeping, and only here and there might they be drinking or preparing food for the morrow.

    “Thank God that I am out after the storm and the sally,” said Pan Longin to himself. “They must be mortally weary.”

    He had scarcely thought this when he heard again in the distance the tramp of horses,—another patrol was coming. But the ground in this place was more broken; therefore it was easier to hide. The patrol passed so near that the guards almost rode over Pan Longin. Fortunately the horses, accustomed to pass among prostrate bodies, were not frightened. Pan Longin went on.

    In the space of a thousand yards he met two more patrols. It was evident that the whole circle occupied by the tabor was guarded like the apple of the eye. But Pan Longin rejoiced in spirit that he was not meeting infantry outposts, who are generally placed before camps to give warning to mounted patrols.

    But his joy was of short duration. Scarcely had he advanced another furlong of the road when some dark figure shifted before him not more than twenty yards distant. Though unterrified, he felt a slight tremor along his spine. It was too late to withdraw and go around. The form moved; evidently it had seen him. A moment of hesitation followed, short as the twinkle of an eye. Then a suppressed voice called:—

    “Vassil, is that you?”

    “I,” said Pan Longin, quietly.

    “Have you gorailka?”

    “I have.”

    “Give me some.”

    Pan Longin approached.

    “Why are you so tall?” asked the voice, in tones of terror.

    Something rustled in the darkness. A scream of “Lor—!” smothered the instant it was begun, came from the mouth of the picket; then was heard the crash as it were of broken bones, heavy breathing, and one figure fell quietly to the earth. Pan Longin moved on.

    But he did not pass along the same line, for it was evidently a line of pickets; he turned therefore a little nearer to the tabor, wishing to go between the pickets and the line of wagons. If there was not another line of pickets, Pan Longin could meet in that space only those who went out from camp to relieve those on duty. Mounted patrols had no duty here.

    After a time it became evident that there was no second line of pickets. But the tabor was not farther than two bow-shots; and wonderful! it seemed to grow nearer continually, though he tried to go at an equal distance from the line of wagons.

    It was evident too that not all were asleep in the tabor. At the fires smoldering here and there, sitting figures were visible. In one place the fire was greater,—so large indeed that it almost reached Pan Longin with its light, and he was forced to draw back toward the pickets so as not to pass through the line of illumination. From the distance he distinguished, hanging on cross-sticks near the fire, oxen which the butchers were skinning. Disputing groups of men looked on. A few were playing quietly on pipes for the butchers. It was that part of the camp occupied by the herdsmen. The more distant rows of wagons were surrounded by darkness.

    But the line of the tabor lighted by the smoldering fires again appeared as if nearer to Pan Longin. In the beginning he had it only on his right hand; suddenly he saw that he had it in front of him. Then he halted and meditated what to do. He was surrounded. The tabor, the Tartar camp, and the camps of the mob, encircled all Zbaraj like a ring. Inside this ring, sentries were standing and mounted guards moving, that no one might pass through.

    The position of Pan Longin was terrible. He had now the choice either to go through between the wagons or seek another exit between the Cossacks and the Tartars. Otherwise he would have to wander till daylight along that rim, unless he wished to return to Zbaraj; but even in the latter case he might fall into the hands of the mounted patrol. He understood, however, that the very nature of the ground did not permit that one wagon should stand close to another. There had to be intervals in the rows, and considerable ones. Such intervals were necessary for communication, for an open road, for necessary travel. He determined to look for such a passage, and with that object approached still nearer to the wagons. The gleam of fires burning here and there might betray him; but on the other hand they were useful, for without them he could see neither the wagons nor the road between them.

    After a quarter of an hour he found a road, and recognized it easily, for it looked like a black belt between the wagons. There was no fire on it; there could be no Cossacks there, since the cavalry had to pass that way. Pan Longin put himself on his knees and hands, and began to crawl to that dark throat like a snake to a hole.

    A quarter of an hour passed,—half an hour; he crawled continually, praying at the same time, commending his body and soul to the protection of the heavenly powers. He thought that perhaps the fate of all Zbaraj was depending on him then, could he pass that throat; he prayed therefore not for himself alone, but for those who at that moment in the trenches were praying for him.

    On both sides of him all was silent,—no man moved, no horse snorted, no dog barked; and Pan Longin went through. The bushes and thickets looked dark before him; behind them was the oak grove; behind the oak grove the pine woods, all the way to Toporoff; beyond the pine woods, the King, salvation, and glory, service before God and man. What was the cutting of three heads in comparison with this deed, for which something was needed beyond an iron hand? Pan Longin felt the difference, but pride stirred not that clean heart; it was only moved like that of a child with tears of thankfulness.

    Then he rose and passed on. Beyond the wagons there were either no pickets, or few easily avoided. Now heavier rain began to fall, pattering on the bushes and drowning the noise of his steps. Pan Longin then gave freedom to his long legs, and walked like a giant, trampling the bushes; every step was like five of a common man,—the wagons every moment farther, the oak grove every moment nearer and salvation every moment nearer.

    Here are the oaks. Night beneath them is as black as under the ground; but that is better. A gentle breeze sprang up; the oaks murmured lightly,—you would have said they were muttering a prayer: “O great God, good God, guard this knight, for he is thy servant, and a faithful son of the land on which we have grown up for thy glory!”

    About seven miles and a half divided Pan Longin from the Polish camp. Sweat poured from his forehead, for the air was sultry, as if gathering for a storm; but he went on, caring nothing for the storm, for the angels were singing in his heart. The oaks became thinner. The first field is surely near. The oaks rustle more loudly, as if wishing to say, “Wait: you were safe among us.” But the knight has no time, and he enters the open field. Only one oak stands on it, and that in the centre; but it is larger than the others. Pan Longin moves toward that oak.

    All at once, when he was a few yards from the spreading branches of the giant, about a dozen figures push out and approach him with wolf-springs: “Who are you? who are you?” Their language is unknown; their heads are covered with something pointed. They are the Tartar horse-herders, who have taken refuge from the rain. At that moment red lightning flashed through the field, revealing the oak, the wild figures of the Tartars, and the enormous noble. A terrible cry shook the air, and the battle began in a moment.

    The Tartars rushed on Pan Longin like wolves on a deer, and seized him with sinewy hands; but he only shook himself, and all the assailants fell from him as ripe fruit from a tree. Then the terrible double-handed sword gritted in the scabbard; and then were heard groans, howls, calls for aid, the whistle of the sword, the groans of the wounded, the neighing and the frightened horses, the clatter of broken Tartar swords. The silent field roared with all the wild sounds that can possibly find place in the throats of men.

    The Tartars rushed on him repeatedly in a crowd; but he put his back to the oak, and in front covered himself with the whirlwind of his sword, and slashed awfully. Bodies lay dark under his feet; the others fell back, impelled by panic terror. “A div! a div!” howled they wildly.

    The howling was not without an answer. Half an hour had not passed when the whole field swarmed with footmen and horsemen. Cossacks ran up, and Tartars also with poles and bows and pieces of burning pitch-pine. Excited questions began to fly from mouth to mouth. “What is it? what has happened?” “A div!” answered the Tartars. “A div!” repeated the crowd. “A Pole! A div! Take him alive, alive!”

    Pan Longin fired twice from his pistols, but those reports could not be heard by his comrades in the Polish camp. Now the crowd approached him in a half-circle. He was standing in the shade, gigantic, supported by the tree, and he waited with sword in hand. The crowd came nearer, nearer. At last the voice of command shouted, “Seize him!”

    They rushed ahead. The cries were stopped. Those who could not push on gave light to the assailants. A whirl of men gathered and turned under the tree. Only groans came out of that whirl, and for a long time it was impossible to distinguish anything. At last a scream of terror was wrested from the assailants. The crowd broke in a moment. Under the tree remained Pan Longin, and at his feet a crowd of bodies still quivering in agony.

    “Ropes! ropes!” thundered a voice.

    The horsemen ran for the ropes, and brought them in the twinkle of an eye. Then a number of strong men seized the two ends of a long rope, endeavoring to fasten Pan Longin to the tree; but he cut with his sword, and the men fell on the ground on both sides. Then the Tartars tried, with the same result.

    Seeing that too many men in the crowd interfere with one another, a number of the boldest Nogais advanced once more, wishing absolutely to seize the enormous man alive; but he tore them as a wild boar tears resolute dogs. The oak, which had grown together from two great trees, guarded in its central depression the knight; whoever approached him from the front within the length of his sword perished without uttering a groan. The superhuman power of Pan Longin seemed to increase with each moment. Seeing this, the enraged hordes drove away the Cossacks, and around were heard the wild cries, “Bows! bows!”

    At the sight of the bows, and of the arrows poured out at the feet of his enemies from their quivers, Pan Longin saw that the moment of death was at hand, and he began the litany to the Most Holy Lady.

    It became still. The crowds restrained their breath, waiting for what would happen. The first arrow whistled, as Pan Longin was saying, “Mother of the Redeemer!” and it scratched his temple. Another arrow whistled as he was saying, “O glorious Lady,” and it stuck in his shoulder. The words of the litany mingled with the whistling of arrows; and when Pan Longin had said “Morning Star,” arrows were standing in his shoulders, in his side, in his legs. The blood from his temples was flowing into his eyes; he saw as through a mist the field and the Tartars; he heard no longer the whistle of the arrows. He felt that he was weakening, that his legs were bending under him; his head dropped on his breast. At last he fell on his knees. Then he said with a half-groan, “Queen of the Angels—” These words were his last on earth. The angels of heaven took his soul, and placed it as a clear pearl at the feet of the “Queen of the Angels.”