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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Basia and Michael Part
By Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916)
 
        
From ‘Pan Michael’: Translation of Jeremiah Curtin
  
  [The siege of Kamenyets is in progress. The defenders have just repulsed a fierce attack upon the castle, but they know their desperate plight, and foresee the tragic end. Basia is with the knights upon the ramparts.]

“PRAISE be to God,” said the little knight, “there will be rest till the morning kindya at least; and in justice it belongs to us.”  1
  But that was an apparent rest only; for when night was still deeper, they heard in the silence the sound of hammers beating the cliff.  2
  “That is worse than artillery,” said Ketling, listening.  3
  “Now would be the time to make a sortie,” said the little knight; “but ’tis impossible,—the men are too weary. They have not slept; and they have not eaten, though they had food, for there was no time to take it. Besides there are always some thousands on guard with the miners, so that there may be no opposition from our side. There is no help but to blow up the new castle ourselves, and withdraw to the old one.”  4
  “That is not for to-day,” answered Ketling. “See, the men have fallen like sheaves of grain, and are sleeping a stone sleep. The dragoons have not even wiped their swords.”  5
  “Basia, it is time to go home and sleep,” said the little knight.  6
  “I will, Michael,” answered Basia obediently; “I will go as you command. But the cloister is closed now: I should prefer to remain, and watch over your sleep.”  7
  “It is a wonder to me,” said the little knight, “that after such toil sleep has left me, and I have no wish whatever to rest my head.”  8
  “Because you have roused your blood among the janissaries,” said Zagloba. “It was always so with me: after a battle I could never sleep in any way. But as to Basia, why should she drag herself to a closed gate? Let her remain here till morning.”  9
  Basia pressed Zagloba with delight; and the little knight, seeing how much she wished to stay, said:—  10
  “Let us go to the chambers.”  11
  They went in; but the place was full of lime dust, which the cannon-balls had raised by shaking the walls. It was impossible to stay there; so they went out again, and took their places in a niche made when the old gate had been walled in. Pan Michael sat there, leaning against the masonry. Basia nestled up to him, like a child to its mother. The night was in August, warm and fragrant. The moon illuminated the niche with a silver light; the faces of the little knight and Basia were bathed in its rays. Lower down, in the court of the castle, were groups of sleeping soldiers and the bodies of those slain during the cannonade; for there had been no time yet for their burial. The calm light of the moon crept over those bodies, as if that hermit of the sky wished to know who was sleeping from weariness merely, and who had fallen into the eternal slumber. Farther on was outlined the wall of the main castle, from which fell a black shadow on one half of the court-yard. Outside the walls, from between the bulwarks, where the janissaries lay cut down with sabres, came the voices of men. They were camp-followers and those of the dragoons to whom booty was dearer than slumber; they were stripping the bodies of the slain. Their lanterns were gleaming on the place of combat like fireflies. Some of them called to one another; and one was singing in an undertone a sweet song not beseeming the work to which he was given at the moment:—
  “Nothing is silver, nothing is gold to me now,
            Nothing is fortune.
Let me die at the fence, then, of hunger,
            If only near thee.”
  12
  But after a certain time that movement began to decrease, and at last stopped completely. A silence set in which was broken only by the distant sound of the hammers breaking the cliffs, and the calls of the sentries on the walls. That silence, the moonlight, and the night full of beauty, delighted Pan Michael and Basia. A yearning came upon them, it is unknown why; and a certain sadness, though pleasant. Basia raised her eyes to her husband; and seeing that his eyes were open, she said:—  13
  “Michael, you are not sleeping.”  14
  “It is a wonder, but I cannot sleep.”  15
  “It is pleasant for you here?”  16
  “Pleasant. But for you?”  17
  Basia nodded her bright head. “O Michael, so pleasant! ai, ai! Did you not hear what that man was singing?”  18
  Here she repeated the last words of the little song,—
  “Let me die at the fence, then, of hunger,
            If only near thee.”
  19
  A moment of silence followed, which the little knight interrupted:—  20
  “But listen, Basia.”  21
  “What, Michael?”  22
  “To tell the truth, we are wonderfully happy with each other; and I think if one of us were to fall, the other would grieve beyond measure.”  23
  Basia understood perfectly that when the little knight said “if one of us were to fall,” instead of die, he had himself only in mind. It came to her head that maybe he did not expect to come out of that siege alive,—that he wished to accustom her to that termination; therefore a dreadful presentiment pressed her heart, and clasping her hands, she said:—  24
  “Michael, have pity on yourself and on me!”  25
  The voice of the little knight was moved somewhat, though calm.  26
  “But see, Basia, you are not right,” said he; “for if you only reason the matter out, what is this temporal existence? Why break one’s neck over it? Who would be satisfied with tasting happiness and love here when all breaks like a dry twig,—who?”  27
  But Basia began to tremble from weeping, and to repeat:—  28
  “I will not hear this! I will not! I will not!”  29
  “As God is dear to me, you are not right,” repeated the little knight. “Look, think of it: there above, beyond that quiet moon, is a country of bliss without end. Of such a one speak to me. Whoever reaches that meadow will draw breath for the first time, as if after a long journey, and will feed in peace. When my time comes,—and that is a soldier’s affair,—it is your simple duty to say to yourself, ‘That is nothing! Michael is gone. True, he is gone far, farther than from here to Lithuania; but that is nothing, for I shall follow him.’ Basia, be quiet; do not weep. The one who goes first will prepare quarters for the other: that is the whole matter.”  30
  Here there came on him, as it were, a vision of coming events; for he raised his eyes to the moonlight, and continued:—  31
  “What is this mortal life? Grant that I am there first, waiting till some one knocks at the heavenly gate. Saint Peter opens it. I look: who is that? My Basia! Save us! Oh, I shall jump then! Oh, I shall cry then! Dear God, words fail me. And there will be no tears, only endless rejoicing; and there will be no pagans, nor cannon, nor mines under walls, only peace and happiness. Ai, Basia, remember, this life is nothing!”  32
  “Michael, Michael!” repeated Basia.  33
  And again came silence, broken only by the distant, monotonous sound of the hammers.  34
  “Basia, let us pray together,” said Pan Michael at last.  35
  And those two souls began to pray. As they prayed, peace came on both; and then sleep overcame them, and they slumbered till the first dawn.  36
  Pan Michael conducted Basia away before the morning kindya to the bridge joining the old castle with the town. In parting, he said:—  37
  “This life is nothing! remember that, Basia.”  38
 
 
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