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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Funeral of Pan Michael
By Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916)
 
        
From ‘Pan Michael’: Translation of Jeremiah Curtin
  
  [Kamenyets has been basely surrendered to the Sultan. Pan Michael prepares to send forth his troops, but between him and Ketling there is a secret understanding: they have sworn to blow up the castle and meet death together, that the white flag may never be hoisted over the citadel of Kamenyets.]

WHEN Volodyovski had mustered the troops, he called Pan Mushalski and said to him:—  1
  “Old friend, do me one more service. Go this moment to my wife, and tell her from me—” Here the voice stuck in the throat of the little knight for a while. “And say to her from me—” He halted again, and then added quickly, “This life is nothing!”  2
  The bowman departed. After him the troops went out gradually. Pan Michael mounted his horse and watched over the march. The castle was evacuated slowly, because of the rubbish and fragments which blocked the way.  3
  Ketling approached the little knight. “I will go down,” said he, fixing his teeth.  4
  “Go! but delay till the troops have marched out. Go!”  5
  Here they seized each other in an embrace which lasted some time. The eyes of both were gleaming with an uncommon radiance. Ketling rushed away at last toward the vaults.  6
  Pan Michael took the helmet from his head. He looked awhile yet on the ruin, on that field of his glory, on the rubbish, the corpses, the fragments of walls, on the breastwork, on the guns; then raising his eyes, he began to pray. His last words were, “Grant her, O Lord, to endure this patiently; give her peace!”  7
  Ah! Ketling hastened, not waiting even till the troops had marched out: for at that moment the bastions quivered, an awful roar rent the air; bastions, towers, walls, horses, guns, living men, corpses, masses of earth, all torn upward with a flame, and mixed,—pounded together, as it were, into one dreadful cartridge, flew toward the sky.  8
 
  Thus died Volodyovski, the Hector of Kamenyets, the first soldier of the Commonwealth.  9
  In the monastery of St. Stanislav stood a lofty catafalque in the centre of the church; it was surrounded with gleaming tapers, and on it lay Pan Volodyovski in two coffins, one of lead and one of wood. The lids had been fastened, and the funeral service was just ending.  10
  It was the heartfelt wish of the widow that the body should rest in Hreptyoff: but since all Podolia was in the hands of the enemy, it was decided to bury it temporarily in Stanislav; for to that place the “exiles” of Kamenyets had been sent under a Turkish convoy, and there delivered to the troops of the hetman.  11
  All the bells in the monastery were ringing. The church was filled with a throng of nobles and soldiers, who wished to look for the last time at the coffin of the Hector of Kamenyets, and the first cavalier of the Commonwealth. It was whispered that the hetman himself was to come to the funeral; but as he had not appeared so far, and as at any moment the Tartars might come in a chambul, it was determined not to defer the ceremony.  12
  Old soldiers, friends or subordinates of the deceased, stood in a circle around the catafalque. Among others were present Pan Mushalski, the bowman, Pan Motovidlo, Pan Snitko, Pan Hromyka, Pan Nyenashinyets, Pan Novoveski, and many others, former officers of the stanitsa. By a marvelous fortune, no man was lacking of those who had sat on the evening benches around the hearth at Hreptyoff; all had brought their heads safely out of that war, except the man who was their leader and model. That good and just knight, terrible to the enemy, loving to his own; that swordsman above swordsmen, with the heart of a dove,—lay there high among the tapers, in glory immeasurable, but in the silence of death. Hearts hardened through war were crushed with sorrow at that sight; yellow gleams from the tapers shone on the stern, suffering faces of warriors, and were reflected in glittering points in the tears dropping down from their eyelids.  13
  Within the circle of soldiers lay Basia, in the form of a cross, on the floor; and near her Zagloba, old, broken, decrepit, and trembling. She had followed on foot from Kamenyets the hearse bearing that most precious coffin, and now the moment had come when it was necessary to give that coffin to the earth. Walking the whole way, insensible, as if not belonging to this world, and now at the catafalque, she repeated with unconscious lips, “This life is nothing!” She repeated it because that beloved one had commanded her, for that was the last message which he had sent her; but in that repetition and in those expressions were mere sounds, without substance, without truth, without meaning and solace. No: “This life is nothing” meant merely regret, darkness, despair, torpor, merely misfortune incurable, life beaten and broken,—an erroneous announcement that there was nothing above her, neither mercy nor hope; that there was merely a desert, and it will be a desert which God alone can fill when he sends death.  14
  They rang the bells; at the great altar, Mass was at its end. At last thundered the deep voice of the priest, as if calling from the abyss: “Requiescat in pace!” A feverish quiver shook Basia, and in her unconscious head rose one thought alone: “Now, now, they will take him from me!” But that was not yet the end of the ceremony. The knights had prepared many speeches to be spoken at the lowering of the coffin; meanwhile Father Kaminski ascended the pulpit,—the same who had been in Hreptyoff frequently, and who in the time of Basia’s illness had prepared her for death.  15
  People in the church began to spit and cough, as is usual before preaching; then they were quiet, and all eyes were turned to the pulpit. The rattling of a drum was heard on the pulpit.  16
  The hearers were astonished. Father Kaminski beat the drum as if for alarm; he stopped suddenly, and a death-like silence followed. Then a drum was heard a second and a third time; suddenly the priest threw the drumsticks to the floor of the church, and called:—  17
  “Pan Colonel Volodyovski!”  18
  A spasmodic scream from Basia answered him. It became simply terrible in the church. Pan Zagloba rose, and aided by Mushalski bore out the fainting woman.  19
  Meanwhile the priest continued: “In God’s name, Pan Volodyovski, they are beating the alarm! there is war, the enemy is in the land!—and do you not spring up, seize your sabre, mount your horse? Have you forgotten your former virtue? Do you leave us alone with sorrow, with alarm?”  20
  The breasts of the knights rose; and a universal weeping broke out in the church, and broke out several times again, when the priest lauded the virtue, the love of country, and the bravery of the dead man. His own words carried the preacher away. His face became pale; his forehead was covered with sweat; his voice trembled. Sorrow for the little knight carried him away, sorrow for Kamenyets, sorrow for the Commonwealth, ruined by the hands of the followers of the Crescent; and finally he finished his eulogy with this prayer:—  21
  “O Lord, they will turn churches into mosques, and chant the Koran in places where till this time the Gospel has been chanted. Thou hast cast us down, O Lord; thou hast turned thy face from us, and given us into the power of the foul Turk. Inscrutable are thy decrees; but who, O Lord, will resist the Turk now? What armies will war with him on the boundaries? Thou, from whom nothing in the world is concealed,—thou knowest best that there is nothing superior to our cavalry! What cavalry can move for thee, O Lord, as ours can? Wilt thou set aside defenders behind whose shoulders all Christendom might glorify thy name? O kind Father, do not desert us! show us thy mercy! Send us a defender! Send a crusher of the foul Mohammedan! Let him come hither; let him stand among us; let him raise our fallen hearts! Send him, O Lord!”  22
  At that moment the people gave way at the door; and into the church walked the hetman, Pan Sobieski. The eyes of all were turned to him; a quiver shook the people; and he went with clatter of spurs to the catafalque, lordly, mighty, with the face of a Cæsar. An escort of iron cavalry followed him.  23
  “Salvator!” cried the priest, in prophetic ecstasy.  24
  Sobieski knelt at the catafalque, and prayed for the soul of Volodyovski.  25
 
 
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