Concerning perils which arise from an untidy encampment - Unexpected relief - The sad state of the gentry - The almsman's visit is a presage of rescue - Major Plut brings down a storm through his excessive flirtaciousness - Discharge of pistol is call to arms - The deeds of Baptist, the deeds and predicament of Maciej - Bucket, with his ambush, saves Soplicowo -Mounted reinforcements, the attack at the infantry -The deeds of Tadeusz - Duel of the leaders brought to naught by treachery - The Tribune's decisive manoeuvre tips the scales of the battle -Gerwazy's bloody deeds -The Chamberlain, a generous victor
And in such deep sleep snored they, were not wakened then
By bright lanterns, and entry of some scores of men,
Who then pounced on the gentry, as wall-spiders leap,
Which are called 'daddy-long-legs', on flies half-asleep;
At the fly's slightest buzz, the long spider's legs wind
Round its prey, which it throttles, this master unkind.
The gentry's sleep was sounder than slumbering flies':
Buzzes not one, each, as if of soul bereft, lies,
Though with powerful arms they were grasped as they lay,
And were turned, as with pitchforks is bundled cut hay.
One only Bucket, and, at a banquet or wedding
You won't find in the shire one with head half as steady,
Bucket, he who could swallow two casks of lime mead,
Ere his tongue would get tangled and legs fail his need,
He, though long had he feasted and lifeless did lie,
Yet gave some sign of life; and forced open one eye,
And sees-two living nightmares! Two frightful mugs bear
Down upon him, each sports of mustachios a pair,
Pant above him, their whiskers are brushing his lips,
Like wings, weave their four hands round his arms and his hips;
Would cross himself in terror, the effort quite failed,
His right hand seemed affixed to his side, as if nailed;
Tried his left, but in vain! For the ghosts had, he found,
Held him tight, like a baby in swaddling-clothes bound.
Was the more panic-stricken, and, holding his breath,
Closed that eye quickly, lies there near freezing to death.
But sprang Baptist up, eager to fight-all too late!
From his own belt he could not himself extricate
And yet, coiling up, sprang he with such mighty bound
He on sleepers' breasts fell, on their heads thrashed around,
Flapping like a hooked pike on a river bank flung,
While like a bear he bellowed (he had mighty lungs),
"We're betrayed, comrades!" roared he-they all, with good reason,
"Help!" respond in a chorus: "help! Rapine and treason!"
The shouts reach with their echoes the old mirrored hall,
Where the Count, and Gerwazy, and 'jockeys' slept all;
Gerwazy awakes, struggles in vain for a bit,
To his own rapier tied, like a roast on a spit;
Looks, and sees by the window big fellows with arms,
In short, black caps, and rigged out in green uniforms.
One, a sash round his middle, epée in his hand,
With its sharp point directed this ruffianly band,
Whispering: "Bind, bind!" Sheep-like, lie scattered around
The trussed 'jockeys'; the Count, though, just sitting, not bound
But disarmed; by him stand two with bare bayonet
Such bullies-them Gerwazy knew, to his regret!
Oft had the Warden in such straits been put,
More than once ropes constrained him, bound him hand and foot,
Yet he freed himself somehow; he knew secret ways
To break bonds, he was strong, and let nothing him faze;
Would save himself in silence, his eyes closed completely,
Feigning sleep, stretched his arms and his legs, but discreetly,
Drew his breath in, and pulled in both belly and breast,
His thews tensed till they bulged, he grew taut and compressed,
As a snake will its body coil up and contort,
Thus Gerwazy, long, thin, had become stout and short;
Stretched and lengthened the bonds, he could hear their slight creak,
Yet they held firm! The Warden, in terror and pique
His face hiding, turned over; in this angry mood,
Eyes closed tight, he just lay there, insensate as wood.
When, at first slow and quiet, there suddenly comes,
Growing faster and louder, the beating of drums;
Then the officer issues commands at this call:
"Lock the Count and his 'jockeys', with guards, in the hall!
Let the second platoon mind the rest in the court!"
And in vain does the Baptist fret, struggle and snort.
The Staff stopped at the house and of armed gentry much:
Podhajskis, Birbasz, Biergiels, Hreczechas and such,
Either allies, or kinsmen, all sped there to snatch
The Judge from danger, having heard news of the battle,
And with Dobrzynskis having some old scores to settle.
Who the Russian battalion from quarters here led?
Who had neighbouring gentry so quickly here sped?
The Assessor, or Jankiel? Much was said thereafter,
But none found out for certain, either then, or after.
The sun's already risen with bloody-red gaze,
It's edge dull, as if it were bereft of its rays,
Half exposed, among black clouds the other half hidden,
As, midst coals of a smithy, a horseshoe glows, reddened.
Grew the wind fiercer, herding thick cloud-banks, which rushed
From the east, dense and ragged, like lumps of ice crushed;
Each cloud drops, as it passes, cold showers of rain;
Behind each flies the wind and the wet dries again,
Behind this wind another damp cloud appears yet:
So the day, turn about, was now chilly-now wet.
Meanwhile the Major orders logs from drying stacks
Be dragged hither; in each log be chopped with an axe
Semi-circular openings, in these openings claps
Captives' legs, while a second notched log their legs traps,
At each corner both timbers secured with two pegs
Snapped together, like dogs' maws, about prisoners' legs,
While the cords round their wrists were pulled tighter behind
The gentry's backs, the Major their torment refined;
Firstly ordered all caps off their heads to be ripped,
Off their backs coats, kontuszes and waistcoats be stripped,
Even vests. Thus the gentry, in stocks, and near-bare,
In a row sat, teeth chattering in chilly night's air,
Being soaked, for the weather grew ever more wet,
And in vain does the Baptist still struggle and fret.
And in vain for the gentry the Judge intercedes,
Useless Zosia's tears, vainly Telimena pleads
For the prisoners' welfare to have more regard,
Although Nikita Rykov, in charge of the guard,
Though a Russ, decent fellow, would fain stay his hand,
But could not, he too bound by the Major's command.
Now this Major, a Pole, from the township Dzierowicz,
His name (so one hears) being, in Polish, Plutowicz,
Had changed faiths; a great scoundrel: term justly applied
To Poles who in Czar's service become russified.
Plut, with pipe, by the porch stood, a hand on each hip,
And when anyone bowed, curled his nose and his lip,
And to prove his great anger to all, he replied
Just by belching great smoke-clouds, and strolling inside.
The Judge meanwhile had Rykov somewhat mollified
The Assessor as well he now took to one side;
Their aim, that without courts this be dealt with and solved,
With the government nowise becoming involved.
Captain Rykov therefore to the Major thus spoke:
"Major! What's the point holding these fellows all yoked!
Send for trial? From this for the gentry much trouble...
You yourself will then, Major, gain not one red rouble.
You know what, Major? Hushing this up makes good sense,
Sure, the Judge should be forced to make you recompense,
We will say, we dropped in, yes, just on our way through,
Thus the goat will stay whole, and the wolf be full, too,
Russian proverb: 'Can do all, but best done with wit';
And this: 'Do your own roasting upon the Czar's spit',
And this too: 'Fighting's good, but agreement is better';
'Tie the knot very well, put the ends in the water'.
We'll submit no report, so none will this discover.
'God gave us hands to grab with', is our Russian proverb."
At this up rose the Major, and with anger snorted:
"Are you off your head, Rykov? I'll have you reported!
'Who serves the state has no mate', old fool Rykov. No,
Are you mad, that you'll have me let mutineers go?
With war looming? Ha, Polacks, sirs, yes, I have come
Here to teach you rebellion! Ha, vile gentry scum!
Dobrzynskis, oy, I know them! Rogues, soak in the rain!"
(With a belly-laugh when he looked out through the pane).
"Why, this very Dobrzynski, one in the vest here,
-Hey, strip him of that vest!-at a masked ball last year
Picked a quarrel, and whose fault? Not mine! To be brief,
He cried, while I was dancing: 'Out, throw out that thief!'
That I just then by army inspectors was harassed
About some missing corps funds, I was much embarrassed,
I came there to mazurka, why stick in his nose?
He shouts 'Thief!' at my back-and the gentry applauds!
I was wronged-the squireen is now caught in my claws!
I said: 'Ey, ey, Dobrzynski, the mountain will come
To Mahomet, Dobrzynski, you'll get a sore bum!'"
Then, he to the Judge whispered low into his ear:
"If you'd rather this should be hush-hushed, Judge my dear,
Per head, a thousand roubles, Judge, yes, you have heard,
Thousand roubles, in cash, yes-and that's my last word!"
The Judge wanted to bargain; the Major nor spoke
Nor would listen, the room paced, belched out clouds of smoke,
Like some rocket, or else like a Catherine wheel,
In his wake ran the women, to cry, and appeal,
Said the Judge: "Major, if you invoke the full law,
What is in this for you? No great battle we saw,
No wounds; if on my chickens and geese they have dined,
Damages, by the statute, they'll simply be fined;
The Count I will not summons, make no allegation,
This was just between neighbours, a small altercation."
"Has the Judge", asked the Major, "the Yellow Book read?"
"And what 'yellow book' is that?" Judge Soplica said.
"One more clear than your statutes, it better sets out
At each second word: halter, Siberia, the knout;
The full code of law martial, in all Litwa now
Proclaimed; all your tribunals before it must bow.
According to law martial, for one such a prank
In Siberian forced labour you'll leg irons clank."
"To the governor I shall", the Judge said, "appeal".
"To the Czar appeal" Plut said, "if that's how you feel.
But know, that when the Emperor confirms his ukases,
By his grace he quite often the penalty raises.
Keep appealing, and I may yet find, if I try,
Your Honour, a good bait to catch you also by.
After all, the spy Jankiel, on whom we have kept
A close watch, holds your inn, and in your house has slept.
I could lock you all up in the care of my warders."
"Arrest me!" the Judge bristled, "You'd dare, without orders?"
From one word to another the quarrel progressed,
When into the home's courtyard drove up a new guest.
The entry strange and bustling. First, as vanguard scout,
Runs a black ram, enormous, from whose head there sprout
Four mighty horns, two of them, like whorled ivory shells
Twist about its ears dressed with small, multiple bells;
And two from the head sideways projected their points,
Little balls of brass tinkled and jangled like coins.
Sheep and goats behind oxen; and following this cattle
Four heavily packed wagons groan, lumber and rattle.
All guessed it was the almsman who thus arrived there.
So the Judge, of his duties as host well aware,
At the door stood to greet him. The priest in the first
Wagon rode, with his face in his cowl half immersed,
But was soon known: when passing the prisoners' line
Turned his face, raised his finger and made them a sign.
And the second cart's driver was, too, recognised:
It was old Maciej-Switch, as a peasant disguised;
When they saw him, the gentry again shouted, and
He said: "Stupid!"-and silence enjoined, with one hand.
On the third cart rode Prussian in old threadbare coat,
And the fourth by Pan Zan, with Mickiewicz, was brought.
In the meantime Podhajskis and Isajewiczes,
Birbaszes, the Wilbikows, Biergels and Kotwiczes,
Seeing Dobrzynski gentry in such woeful state,
Felt their ancient resentments begin to abate.
For Polish gentry, very rash and contradictive,
And hot-headed, is never intensely vindictive.
And so they to old Maciej for his counsel ran,
He this company stationed about every van,
Told to wait there.
The Almsman the room entered now,
Although dressed just the same, seemed quite different somehow,
A new mien he adopted; though always stern-faced,
And abstracted, today this with gaiety replaced;
Like a jolly monk's face, his cheeks shone from afar,
Before he started speaking, laughed:
"Ha, ha, ha, ha,
My respects, ha, ha, ha, oh, first-rate, a great sight!
My officers, you hunt not by day, but by night!
A good bag, ha, ha, ha, and the game's not too thin!
Oh yes, pluck, pluck, the gentry: indeed, skin them, skin,
O yes, bridle the gentry, a real fractious mount!
Sincere compliments, Major, you've caught the young Count,
He's a fat one, a rich one, a well-born. I'll bet,
Keep him caged and three hundred gold ducats you'll get!
When you do, to my order donate some three pence,
And to me, for I ever have prayed for your sins.
As I'm a friar, greatly for your soul I fear!
Death staff-officers also will grab by the ears!
Baka wrote well, that death will come after the varlet
And the scarlet; on velvet frock also will knock;
On a plain wrap will tap, and on cowl she will rap;
On girls' pretty locks knocks she, as on shoulder-strap,
Mother Death, says Baka, like an onion, a tear
Squeezes from whom she teases; and holds just as dear
A young baby who drowses and rake who carouses!
Today, Major, we think, and tomorrow we stink,
This ours only, which right now we eat and we drink!
It is breakfast-time now, Judge, I'm sure you'll agree.
I shall sit, and invite you to sit down with me;
Would you care for some fillets? We'll make it a lunch,
Captain, you won't say no to a bowl of good punch?"
Said both officers: "Father, indeed it's almost
Time to eat and to honour the Judge with a toast".
Amazed was the whole household observing Worm's queer,
Jaunty, unwonted bearing and all this good cheer.
The Judge straightway the eye of the servitors caught:
And soon bowl, bottles, sugar and sliced beef were brought.
Plut and Rykov so briskly set to cut and clink,
So to greedily swallow, so copiously drink,
That in half an hour twenty-three fillets they munched,
And downed half a huge bowl of most excellent punch.
Then the Major sprawled, sated, at ease in his chair,
Took his pipe, with a banknote lit up with great care,
Wiped his lips clean of food with the tablecloth's skirt,
And, eyes twinkling, turned now with the women to flirt,
"You, fair ladies, to me are as good as dessert!
By my epaulettes, after a man's drunk a jar,
With ladies quite as charming as you ladies are!
What about a small card-game? Twenty-one? Maybe, whist?
Or, best, dance a mazurka? By devils' whole list!
Among yaegers I'm known as the best mazurkist!"
After which he the ladies approached, bent in two,
At whom he, in turn, smoke-rings and compliments blew.
"Let's dance!" cried Worm, "a cleric, I too get the itch
When I've emptied a bottle, my cassock to hitch,
And will dance a mazurka! But, Major Plut, please,
Here we drink, while the yaegers stand outside and freeze!
Let's all have a good time! Judge, a barrel, I think,
Major's brave yaegers surely can do with a drink!"
"I'm obliged", said the Major, "with this I've no quarrel!"
"Roll out, Judge", Worm then whispered, "of spirits a barrel".
And so, while the Staff swallowed their fill in the house,
Rank-and-file outside set to imbibe and carouse.
Captain Rykov in silence kept drinking aside,
The Major drank, and ladies with compliments plied,
And his fancy for dance now too strong to resist,
Dropped his pipe, Telimena's hand grabbed to insist,
But she escaped; so Zosia was now in his sights,
Swaggered, staggered, and her to mazurka invites:
"Hey, you Rykov, stop blowing and puffing, you're best
Strumming the balalaika; your pipe give a rest;
Go and grab that guitar there, and play us at once
A mazurka! I, Major, shall lead off the dance".
Rykov took the guitar, strings adjusted and tuned,
Plut again Telimena to dance importuned.
"Take the word of a major, miss, no Russian, I,
I'm a son-of-a-bitch if I tell you a lie,
Ask my officers here, they will, without delay,
Bear witness, the whole army will, cross my heart, say,
That in Czar's Second Army, the Eleventh Corps,
In Second Foot Division, brigade twenty-four
Of yaegers, Major Plut is the best dancer, truly.
Come, come, come, Miss; a filly should not be unruly!
For in officer-style I shall punish you, miss..."
Saying this, he jumped close, and a broad smacking kiss,
He upon a white shoulder resoundingly clapped;
When Tadeusz sprang up, and his face loudly slapped;
Kiss and slap were together throughout the room heard,
The one after the other, as word after word.
The Major rubbed his eyes, stood transfixed, pale with anger;
Shouted: "Mutiny! Rebel!"-and reached for his hanger,
When the priest made a pistol from out his sleeve glide:
"Snuff him out like a candle, Tadeusz!" he cried.
Tadeusz seized it, took aim and fired; but the shot
Missed, though deafening the Major, and scorching somewhat.
With guitar sprang up Rykov, and: "Mutiny!" cried,
Grabbed Tadeusz; the Tribune from table's far side
Swung an arm from the shoulder; the blade flew and whirred
Between heads; hit a target before being heard,
The guitar's back it struck, and it pierced it right throughZ
Rykov dodged to one side, and Death passed him by, too.
He felt fear, shouted: "Yaegers! Revolt! God help!"-tore
His sword out, and defending, he made for the door.
When, from t'other side, numbers of armed gentry entered
With drawn rapiers, through windows, old Switch at the centre,
In the hall now, Plut bellows for help to his men,
The three nearest already ran up to defend:
Now three bayonets, glistening, glide through the door, slow,
And behind those, three shakos come, bent very low.
Maciej at the door waiting, pressed to the wall flat,
His Switch raised, cat in ambush awaiting the rat.
Then! Struck dreadfully, three heads at once might have rolled,
But whether too near-sighted, wrought-up, or too old,
Not on necks, but on shakos the dreadful stroke fell,
Tore them off; on the bayonets Switch clanged, like a bell-
The Russians pulled back, Maciej the soldiers pursues
To the courtyard-
Where matters were greatly confused,
Where the friends of Soplicas worked hard to compete
In removing the logs from Dobrzynskis' bound feet;
Seeing this, now the yaegers their weaponry drew,
First, the sergeant Podhajski with bayonet pierced through,
Wounded two other gentry, now shot at the third,
They ran off; by the Baptist's log all this occurred.
He now had both hands free and to join the fight fidgets;
So he rose, his arm lifting, clenched tight his long digits,
From above such a blow at the Russian's back swung,
Face and temple smashed into the cock of the gun.
The lock clicked, but the powder, blood-soaked, did not flash;
On his own gun the sergeant at Baptist's feet crashed;
Baptist bent, grasped the barrel with both strong hands bare,
Like the brush of a priest waved it high in the air,
Made a 'windmill'; two privates he straightaway whacked
And the corporal skittled with blows to his back;
The rest, frightened, retreated from stocks helter-skelter:
Thus the Baptist all covered with this mobile shelter.
Then the cords were cut, logs were soon hammered apart,
Now the gentry, freed, rushed to the alms-quester's cart.
There unloading swords, sabres, rapiers and cutlasses,
Scythes, and carbines too; Bucket found two blunderbusses
And some balls; and with these filled his own gun, and took,
Also loaded, the other, to give his son Chook.
Now more yaegers come, join in, all mingle confused,
Gentry's fencing skills can't in such melée be used,
Yaegers can't shoot; close combat, a hand-to-hand battle,
Steel on tooth, tooth on steel, meet, break, shatter and rattle,
Bayonet rings on the sabre, the scythe on sword bends,
Fist encounters a fist, arm against arm contends.
But Rykov with some yaegers runs to where a barn
Meets the fence; there he, halting, his men tries to warn
That in such fight chaotic they must not persist,
Without use of their arms they succumb to the fist,
Annoyed, his guns were useless, for in this pell-mell
From his Russians the Poles he himself could not tell,
So shouts: "Stroy, sia!" (in Russian this means 'to fall in')
But they can't hear his orders above all the din.
Old Maciej, who these days in close combat had found
No delight, withdrew making some room all around
To right and left; a bayonet with sabre tip flick
From the barrel shears off, as from candle its wick,
Here he slashed from the shoulder, there sabre's point thrust,
And thus the cautious Maciej to open field passed.
But in most dogged fashion upon him next bore
Old Gefreiter, instructor-in-chief of the corps,
A great master of bayonet; now watchfully stands,
Crouching low, he the carbine grasps in both strong hands,
His right at the lock, left on the barrel, half-way,
Pirouettes, sometimes squats, and, sometimes leaps away,
Drops the left, the right thrusting in front, as to make
Darting moves, like the sting from the jaw of a snake.
And again draws it back, then upon his knee rests,
And thus, twisting, and leaping, he Maciej invests.
Admitting his opponent's great skill, Maciej old
On his nose with the left hand his glasses installed,
His right holding the Switch, with the hilt his breast touching,
He retreated, the corporal's moves carefully watching,
Himself on his feet tottered, as if deep in drink;
Gefreiter pressed on faster, on victory's brink,
The easier the retreating old fellow to catch,
Straightened up, and to full length his whole arm he stretched
Pushing forward the carbine, and such effort spent
Lunging with the big weapon, that too far he leant:
Maciek, just where a bayonet on gun-barrel slips
Placed his hilt underneath and the blade upward tipped,
Then he dropped the Switch, slashing the Russ on the paw,
And, swinging from the shoulder, cut right through the jaw.
Thus in death's throes the foremost Russ fence-master tosses,
Chevalier of four medals and several crosses.
By the stocks in the meantime the gentry's left wing
Is now near total triumph, there Baptist's arm swings,
Seen from afar; there Razor between Russians threads
His steel, slicing trunks, while his old comrade pounds heads;
Like the engine by German mechanics invented,
And which by the name 'thresher' was by them patented,
But is also a 'chopper', knives and flails does ply,
At the same time the hay chops, and threshes the rye,
Thus do Baptist and Razor together toil; so
Slaying foes, this one topside, and that one below.
But now near-certain victory the Baptist foregoes,
Hastens to the left wing, where new danger now grows
For old Maciej: Proporszczyk runs up, at him hacks,
To avenge old Gefreiter; with spontoon attacks
(Spontoon is at the same time a pike and an axe,
Now already neglected, and but in the fleet
Used-in infantry corps then not yet obsolete).
Now the Ensign, a young lad, this weapon well plied,
When his enemy parried the thing to one side,
He drew back; slower Maciej was frustrated hence,
Since he couldn't attack, had to stay in defence.
The Ensign him already some injury caused;
With spontoon held high clearly new mischief proposed:
The Baptist could not reach them, stopped half-way almost,
Swung his weapon and under the Ensign's feet tossed,
Crushed a bone, the spontoon he let drop from his hand,
Swayed, was rushed by the Baptist, the whole gentry band;
From the gentry's rear new lots of Russians now ran,
And mingling round the Baptist new battles began.
Baptist, who'd lost his weapon in Maciej's defence,
For this good turn paid nearly with his own life since
On his back, from behind, fell a strong Russian pair
And four hands were entangled at once in his hair;
Their legs bracing, they pulled, as at taut ropes made fast
By two tow-men, attached to a river raft's mast.
Vainly Baptist behind him struck blind blows in fear,
He now tottered-then saw that Gerwazy fights near,
Struggling grimly cries: "Penknife! For Lord Jesu's sake!"
The Warden, now to Baptist's new peril awake,
Turns around, and the shallow, sharp weapon he sends
In between Baptist's head and the Muscovite hands;
With a dreadful loud outcry retreated the pair,
But one hand, more tenacious, entrapped in the hair,
Remained in there, suspended, blood spouting in spurts.
Thus a hawk, which one claw in a hare's back inserts,
As the other stays anchored in bole of a tree,
By the hare is split, trying to wrench itself free,
The right talon, stuck fast, in the forest will stay,
The beast, its left claw bloody, to fields bears away.
At last free, Baptist swivels his eyes right around,
For arms searches, for arms begs; but no arms has found;
With fists meanwhile he thunders, his legs planted wide
And, as best he can, staying by Gerwazy's side,
Until he his son Chook in the tumult espied.
Chook a blunderbuss aims with his right hand, and drags
A thick fathom-long timber, with knots and with knags,
Armed with flint and carbuncle, and armoured with stone,
(Of such weight none could lift it, but Baptist alone).
Baptist, with his beloved club, Sprinkler, in sight,
Quickly grasped it, and kissed it, leapt up in delight,
Whirled it over his head, and soon stained it in flight.
What havoc would wreak after, what epic tale weave,
It is vain to sing, for none the muse would believe,
As none trusted in Wilno the poor, aged crone
Who, on Ostra Gate standing, had witnessed alone
How the Muscovite general, Deyov, with a great
Troop of Cossacks, already had opened the gate,
And how one Czarnobacki, unsung in that war,
Killed Deyov and demolished the whole Cossack corps.
Enough, that all did happen as Rykov foresaw:
Yaegers were, in a melee, no match for their foe;
Twenty-three of them lying stretched out on the ground,
With some thirty-odd groaning with many a wound,
Some fled into the orchard, in hops lay inert,
In the house some sought shelter behind women's skirts.
Victorious gentry, cheering, run here and run there,
Some to casks; others booty from stricken foe tear,
Only Worm in their triumph does not claim a share.
He himself did not fight (for no canon allows
That a priest may bear arms), but, as person of nous,
Gives advice, field of battle surveys from all sides,
With eye and hand his warriors he rallies and guides,
And now calls out that they should around him collect
To rush Rykov, and thereby the victory perfect.
In the meantime tells Rykov that he should disarm,
Saying, if he does so, he will suffer no harm;
But he warns, if surrender is further delayed,
Worm shall have them surrounded and put to the blade.
Captain Rykov for quarter to beg had not bothered;
Having half a battalion around himself gathered,
Cried: "To arms!"-and their carbines the rank grabbed, held steady,
The arms clattered, they all had been loaded already;
He cried: "Aim!"-barrels glistened at once in long rows,
He cried: "Squad, fire in turn!"-now gun after gun glows,
This man shoots, that man loads, and those to shoulder bring,
One hears whistle of bullets, locks click, ramrods ring.
The line looks like some reptile, fabulous and lithe,
Equipped with legs a thousand that glisten and writhe.
True, the yaegers were fuddled by drink quite a bit,
Aim badly, their mark missing, but few bullets hit,
Fewer kill, nonetheless now two Macieks were hurt,
One Bartholomew lying quite dead on the dirt.
The gentry, with its few guns, more seldom reply,
With its sabres would rather the enemy try,
But the elders restrain them; balls buzz past their ears,
Most missing, sometimes striking; the courtyard soon clears.
And now on homestead windows balls started to rattle.
Tadeusz had the ladies to guard, but the battle
Going ill, disregarded his orders, and flew
Towards the fighting; as did the Chamberlain too,
To whom Tomasz, at last, brought his favourite sword;
He runs, joins other gentry, and leads them toward
The soldiers, his sword upraised, they all follow suit,
The yaegers let them come close, a hail of lead shoot.
Fell Isajewicz, Wilbik; and Razor near died;
Then the gentry were halted, by Worm on one side,
On the other by Maciej, they cool a degree;
Look around, start retreating; the Russians this see,
Captain Rykov to strike now the final blow vows:
Clear the courtyard of gentry, then capture the house!
"Take up attack formation!" he cried, "Bayonets fix!
Forward!" Soon the line, barrels projecting like sticks,
Bend their heads, move off slowly, then quicken their stride;
Vainly gentry resist them, and shoot from the side,
The troop, unchecked, across half the courtyard now pour;
The Captain, his sword pointing towards the front door,
Shouts: "Give in, Judge, or I'll put your house to the torch!"
"Torch away", cries the Judge, "in this fire you'll be scorched!"
O Soplicowo homestead! If yet unharmed quite,
Your walls under the linden tree stand shining bright,
If the neighbouring gentry is still today able
To sit down at the Judge's hospitable table,
They drink Bucket's health surely, for all there allow,
Without him, Soplicowo would not be here now.
Bucket, till now, to join in the fighting refused;
Though of gentry the first from the stocks to be loosed,
Though at once, on a wagon, found under a rag
His blunderbuss beloved, and of balls a bag,
But would not fight; was, said he, not up to the task
After fasting; so found he of spirits a cask,
With his hand the stream deftly into his mouth turned,
And only when well-warmed, and his strength had returned,
Adjusted his cap, picked up his 'Bucket' again,
Rammed a charge with a ramrod, put more in the pan,
And the battlefield scanned: sees the bayonet charge batter
The gentry down, observes them now waver and scatter,
Against this tide he swims now, and bending down low,
Diving through the tall grasses that helpfully grow
In the big courtyard's centre, where sit clumps of nettles,
Gestures to Chook to join him, in one such clump settles.
With his blunderbuss young Chook before the porch stood
To defend it, for Zosia dwelt there, dear and good,
And even though his wooing had given offence,
He yet loved, and would die in his Zosia's defence.
Now yaegers reach the nettles, march in, row by row,
When Bucket touched the trigger, and from the gun's maw
A dozen chopped balls into the Muscovites loosed,
Chook sent another dozen, the yaegers, confused,
Recoil; shocked by the ambush the line sheds and spills
Dead and wounded; the wounded the Baptist soon kills.
The barn now distant; fearing retreat there too rash,
For the garden fence Rykov decided to dash,
From there calls to the fleeing, towards him they run;
To some order restores, but a now different one:
Makes a triangle: apex in front, with good sense
Its base at rear protected by that garden fence.
And did well, the light horse now would press his men hard.
The Count, kept at the castle by Muscovite guard,
Once these ran away, frightened, told his men to mount
And, hearing shots, they galloped towards them; the Count
Himself in front, steel brandished above his head high.
When "Half-battalion, fire!" came Rykov's reply.
Along line of locks sputtered a fiery thread
And from black levelled barrels three hundred balls sped.
Three riders fell off, wounded, one dead, by the guns;
Fell Count's horse, fell the Count, screams the Warden and runs
To the rescue, for yaegers aim straight at the hide
Of the last live Horeszko, though on distaff side.
Worm was nearer, in Count's stead received the full force
Of the volley, then drew him from under the horse,
Leads him off; first tells gentry not to bunch, but scatter,
Not to waste ammunition, aim slower and better,
To hide behind the barn walls, the well, or the gate;
The Count's horsemen a fitter occasion should wait.
Worm's purpose grasped and carried it out to a T,
Tadeusz: behind wooden old well-head stood he:
And quite sober, a marksman much better than fair
(He could hit a gold zloty thrown up in the air),
Did dreadful work on Moscow: selects the top brass,
With first shot the field-sergeant stretched out on the grass.
With both barrels he then of two sergeants disposed,
Aimed now at the gold braid, now the troop's centre chose,
Where stood the staff; so, furious, Rykov huffs and blows,
Stamps his feet in frustration; his rapier's hilt gnaws.
"Major Plut", he calls loudly, "how will all this end?
Soon there'll be no one left here to be in command!"
And so Plut to Tadeusz with great anger cried:
"Sir Polack, it is shameful behind trees to hide,
Do not skulk, in the open fight for your good name,
Like a knight"-From Tadeusz this answer soon came:
"Major! If you are really so valiant a knight,
Then why behind your yaegers keep you out of sight?
I'm not scared; it is you at your fence skulk in fright,
It's you who got your face slapped, I'm ready to fight!
Why spill blood! You and I had sparked off this discord,
Let the pistol decide it, or, maybe the sword:
I leave you choice of weapons, from cannon to pin;
If not, I'll pick you all off like wolves in the den."
This said, he fired again, and his aim was so good,
That he hit a lieutenant near where Rykov stood.
"Major, you", whispered Rykov, "Must go out and fight
And take revenge upon him for this morning's slight.
If someone else dispatches this man in your place,
You see, Major, this shame you will never efface.
This young gent must out into the open be lured,
If the bullets don't touch him, a sword must make sure.
'A big noise is for boys, while I like a sharp spike',
Used to say old Suvarov, so, go, Major, strike!
Or he'll pick us all off; look, he's now taking aim."
To this the Major: "Rykov! Dear friend, you're so game,
With the sword such a champion, so you go, dear friend!
Or, you know what? One of our lieutenants I'll send.
I'm a major, deserting my troops would be wrong,
To me does the command of this unit belong."
At this raised his sword Rykov, stepped out with firm tread,
Ordered cease-fire, white kerchief he waved overhead,
Asked Tadeusz what would be his weapon preferred;
After some negotiations at swords both concurred.
Tadeusz was without his; when for one they sought,
The Count leapt out, armed fully, and all brought to nought.
"Pan Soplica!" he cried out, "I will be so bold,
You have called out the Major! I prior claim hold
On the Captain, 'twas he who my castle invaded...
("You mean", broke in Protazy, "our castle he raided")
At the head of his cut-throats", the Count now wound up,
"He, I recognised Rykov, my jockeys bound up,
I'll trounce him, like the brigands beneath that huge stone
Which as Birbante-Rocco to natives is known."
All became still, the firing allowed to subside,
Both troops keenly the meeting of their leaders eyed:
The Count and Rykov sideways to each other stand,
The adversary threatening with right eye and hand,
Then with left hands their heads they uncovered in greeting,
And bowed courteously, (as is done at such a meeting:
Before murdering each other, one should be polite).
The swords clashed now already, are hungry to bite;
The knights, each one foot raising, now pivot, now turn,
Right knee bending leap forward, and backward return.
But Plut, seeing Tadeusz, in plain view in front,
On the quiet consulted with Corporal Gont,
In the unit reputed as their champion shot.
"Gont", said the Major, "just there! You see that bad lot?
If you, there, place a bullet, right on that breast pocket,
You will four silver roubles find in your pay packet."
Gont his carbine cocked, crouched low above the gun's barrel,
His loyal comrades covered him with their apparel;
He aims, not at the heart, at the head aims instead,
Fired, and hit his mark, nearly, the hat, not the head,
Tadeusz spun around, and the Baptist then made
A rush at Rykov, others cry: "We've been betrayed!"
Tadeusz shields him; Rykov indeed hardly could
Get away, and retreat to his own ranks make good.
Dobrzynskis and Lithuanians compete now and vie,
And despite their disputes from the days long gone by
Fight like brothers, encourage, each other egg on,
Dobrzynskis, when Podhajski, as in a dance, spun
Before yaeger line, scything them down like mown wheat,
With joy shouted: "Long live, you Podhajskis, you're neat!
Forward you Lithuanians, our brothers for ever!"
Skoluba, seeing Razor, how he, with no quiver,
Although wounded, the yaegers with raised sabre pressed,
Shouted: "Hurray the Macieks! The Mazurs are best!"
Giving heart to each other, they Russians attack;
Vainly Worm and old Maciej try holding them back.
While under this onslaught the yaegers' line reels,
The Tribune leaves the battle, to the garden steals;
With him careful Protazy kept pace alongside,
And the Tribune with orders him quietly plied.
There then stood in the garden hard by the same fence
On which Rykov's triangle had based its defence,
A cheese-house, built of lattice, big, heavy with age,
Of timbers cross-wise fastened, not unlike a cage.
In it shone many dozens of white cheeses lying,
While suspended around them big bunches hung drying
Of wild thyme, sage, cardoon, and of fennel and bennet,
Miss Hreczeha's home drugstore all hanging within it.
The cheese-house at the top was six yards square almost,
And all built on the top of a single thick post,
All not unlike a stork's nest. The old oaken mast
Leaned to one side, half-rotten, until it at last
Was dangerous. Though the Judge had quite often been told
To demolish a structure so weakened and old:
He always answered that he would rather repair
Than demolish it, or else rebuild it elsewhere.
Reconstruction deferred to a time better fit,
For the meantime inserting two props under it.
Thus the shored but precarious old edifice dangled
By the fence, overlooking that Rykov's triangle.
The pair towards the cheese-house in silence advance,
Each armed with an enormous wood pole, like a lance;
The housekeeper behind through the hemp stole along,
And the scullion, a small lad, but for his age strong.
Once there, they aimed their poles at the half-rotten wood,
On the other end hanging pushed hard as they could,
Like raftsmen who from shore with long barge-poles would keep
Their barge away from shoals, and push into the deep.
The post cracked: now the cheese-house sways, totters and falls,
With load of logs and cheeses, on Muscovite polls,
Wounds, crushes, slays, and where once the serried ranks stood,
Lie beams, corpses, and cheeses snow white, now by blood
And brains stained. The triangle into fragments crashes,
And in its midst thumps Sprinkler, Razor gleams and flashes,
Chops the Switch, then more gentry from courtyard pour out,
While Count's horse chase the fleeing, completing the rout.
Now, with one sergeant, only eight yaegers remained
Still defending; the Warden ran at them; they trained
Standing boldly, nine barrels straight at Warden's head;
To meet the volley, whirling the Penknife he sped.
The priest sees this, the Warden he reached in one bound,
Himself falls, and Gerwazy he knocks to the ground.
They fell, when the platoon had just opened their fire,
Lead whizzed by, and the Warden sprang up from the mire,
And leapt into the smoke, and two heads at once slashes:
They flee awe-struck. The Warden them chases and thrashes;
Down the courtyard they run, he behind them not far,
Then rush through barn house doors that were standing ajar;
From the barnyard Gerwazy rode in on their backs,
Was swallowed by the darkness, but ceased not the whacks,
Through the door one hears screaming, more blows, and a groan.
Then all grew still; emerged but Gerwazy, alone,
Sword all bloody.
The gentry had now gained the field,
Chase and slash scattered yaegers; Rykov does not yield,
Though surrounded, refuses to lay down his sword,
Till the Chamberlain gravely approached, and implored,
And his sword raising thus spoke in dignified strain:
"Captain! Accepting quarter your name will not stain,
You gave the proof, ill-fated, but valorous knight
Of your courage, abandon this unequal fight,
Yield your arms while without force we this yet allow,
You preserve life and honour: my prisoner are now!"
Rykov won by the other's demeanour most grave,
Bowed, and his naked sword to the Chamberlain gave,
To the hilt with blood spattered. "Brother Poles", said he,
"Shame, I did not have even one cannon with me!
'Mark this well, comrade Rykov', Suvarov said once,
Against Poles you must never proceed without guns!'
But then! The yaegers were drunk! The Major allowed!
Oh, Major Plut, today he would not be too proud!
He will to the Czar answer, he was in command,
I, Pan Chamberlain, want to shake you by the hand.
Russian saying is: 'He whom you love extra well,
He', Pan Chamberlain, 'also can fight you like hell'.
You are good at a tipple, and good at a battle,
But now please to stop killing my yaegers like cattle."
The Chamberlain, sword raised, when he Rykov's speech heard,
Through the Usher a general then pardon declared,
Had the wounded looked after, ground cleared of the dead,
And the yaegers, disarmed, to confinement were led.
They searched long for Plut: he, in a nettle bush lying,
Burrowed deeply, and lay there as if dead or dying;
At last ventured out hearing no more cries and blows.
The last foray in Litwa thus came to a close.