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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Zagloba Captures a Banner
By Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916)
From ‘With Fire and Sword’: Translation of Jeremiah Curtin
  [At the decisive moment in a battle between the Polish forces under Prince Yeremi and the peasant mob of the Zaporojians, the hussars of the former are ordered to advance. Zagloba, reluctant, alarmed, indignant, is carried forward with them.]

WHEN the hussars moved forward, Zagloba, though he had short breath and did not like a throng, galloped with the others, because in fact he could not do otherwise without danger of being trampled to death. He flew on therefore, closing his eyes; and through his head there flew with lightning speed the thought, “Stratagem is nothing, stratagem is nothing: the stupid win, the wise perish!” Then he was seized with spite against the war, against the Cossacks, the hussars, and every one else in the world. He began to curse, to pray. The wind whistled in his ears, the breath was hemmed in his breast. Suddenly his horse struck against something; he felt resistance. Then he opened his eyes, and what did he see? Scythes, sabres, flails, a crowd of inflamed faces, eyes, mustaches,—and all indefinite, unknown, all trembling, galloping, furious. Then he was transported with rage against those enemies, because they are not going to the devil, because they are rushing up to his face and forcing him to fight. “You wanted it, now you have it,” thought he, and he began to slash blindly on every side. Sometimes he cut the air, and sometimes he felt that his blade had sunk into something soft. At the same time he felt that he was still living, and this gave him extraordinary hope. “Slay! kill!” he roared like a buffalo. At last those frenzied faces vanished from his eyes, and in their places he saw a multitude of visages, tops of caps, and the shouts almost split his ears. “Are they fleeing?” shot through his head. “Yes!” Then daring sprang up in him beyond measure. “Scoundrels!” he shouted, “is that the way you meet a noble?” He sprang among the fleeing enemy, passed many, and entangled in the crowd, began to labor with greater presence of mind now.  1
  Meanwhile his comrades pressed the Cossacks to the bank of the Sula, covered pretty thickly with trees, and drove them along the shore to the embankment,—taking no prisoners, for there was no time.  2
  Suddenly Zagloba felt that his horse began to spread out under him; at the same time something heavy fell on him and covered his whole head, so that he was completely enveloped in darkness.  3
  “Oh, save me!” he cried, beating the horse with his heels.  4
  The steed, however, apparently wearied with the weight of the rider, only groaned and stood in one place.  5
  Zagloba heard the screams and shouts of the horsemen rushing around him; then that whole hurricane swept by, and all was in apparent quiet.  6
  Again thoughts began to rush through his head with the swiftness of Tartar arrows: “What is this? What has happened? Jesus and Mary, I am in captivity!”  7
  On his forehead drops of cold sweat came out. Evidently his head was bound just as he had once bound Bogun. That weight which he feels on his shoulder is the hand of a Cossack. But why don’t they hang him or kill him? Why is he standing in one place?  8
  “Let me go, you scoundrel!” cried he at last, with a muffled voice.  9
  Silence.  10
  “Let me go! I’ll spare your life. Let me go, I say!”  11
  No answer.  12
  Zagloba struck into the sides of his horse again with his heels, but again without result; the prodded beast only stretched out wider and remained in the same place.  13
  Finally rage seized the unfortunate captive; and drawing a knife from the sheath that hung at his belt, he gave a terrible stab behind. But the knife only cut the air.  14
  Then Zagloba pulled with both hands at the covering which bound his head, and tore it in a moment. What is this?  15
  No Cossack. Deserted all around. Only in the distance was to be seen in the smoke the red dragoons of Volodyovski flying past; and farther on, the glittering armor of the hussars pursuing the remnant of the defeated, who were retreating from the field toward the water. At Zagloba’s feet lay a Cossack regimental banner. Evidently the fleeing Cossack had dropped it so that the staff hit Zagloba’s shoulder, and the cloth covered his head.  16
  Seeing all this, and understanding it perfectly, that hero regained his presence of mind completely.  17
  “Oh, ho!” said he, “I have captured a banner. How is this? Didn’t I capture it? If justice is not defeated in this battle, then I am sure of a reward. Oh, you scoundrels! it is your luck that my horse gave out! I did not know myself when I thought I was greater in strategy than in bravery. I can be of some higher use in the army than eating cakes. Oh, God save us! some other crowd is rushing on. Don’t come here, dog-brothers; don’t come this way! May the wolves eat this horse! Kill! slay!”  18
  Indeed a new band of Cossacks were rushing toward Zagloba, raising unearthly voices, closely pursued by the armored men of Polyanovski. And perhaps Zagloba would have found his death under the hoofs of their horses, had it not been that the hussars of Skshetuski, having finished those whom they had been pursuing, turned to take between two fires those onrushing parties. Seeing this, the Zaporojians ran toward the water, only to find death in the swamps and deep places after escaping the sword. Those who fell on their knees begging for quarter died under the steel. The defeat was terrible and complete, but most terrible on the embankment. All who passed that, were swept away in the half-circle left by the forces of the prince. Those who did not pass, fell under the continual fire of Vurtsel’s cannon and the guns of the German infantry. They could neither go forward nor backward; for Krívonos urged on still new regiments, which, pushing forward, closed the only road to escape. It seemed as though Krívonos had sworn to destroy his own men; who stifled, trampled, and fought one another, fell, sprang into the water on both sides, and were drowned. On one side were black masses of fugitives, and on the other masses advancing; in the middle, piles and mountains and rows of dead bodies; groans, screams, men deprived of speech; the madness of terror, disorder, chaos. The whole pond was full of men and horses; the water overflowed the banks.  19
  At times the artillery was silent. Then the embankment, like the mouth of a cannon, threw forth crowds of Zaporojians and the mob, who rushed over the half-circle and went under the swords of the cavalry waiting for them. Then Vurtsel began to play again with his rain of iron and lead; the Cossack reinforcement barred the embankment. Whole hours were spent in these bloody struggles.  20
  Krívonos, furious, foaming at the mouth, did not give up the battle yet, and hurried thousands of men to the jaws of death.  21
  Yeremi, on the other side, in silver armor, sat on his horse, on a lofty mound called at that time the Kruja Mogila, and looked on. His face was calm; his eye took in the whole embankment, pond, banks of the Sluch, and extended to the place in which the enormous tabor of Krívonos stood wrapped in the bluish haze of the distance. The eyes of the prince never left that collection of wagons. At last he turned to the massive voevoda of Kieff, and said:—  22
  “We shall not capture the tabor to-day.”  23
  “How? You wished to—”  24
  “Time is flying quickly. It is too late. See! it is almost evening.”  25
  In fact, from the time the skirmishers went out, the battle, kept up by the stubbornness of Krívonos, had lasted already so long that the sun had but an hour left of its whole daily half-circle, and inclined to its setting. The light, lofty, small clouds, announcing fair weather and scattered over the sky like white-fleeced lambs, began to grow red and disappear in groups from the field of heaven. The flow of Cossacks to the embankment stopped gradually, and those regiments that had already come upon it retreated in dismay and disorder.  26
  The battle was ended; and ended because the enraged crowd fell upon Krívonos at last, shouting with despair and madness:—  27
  “Traitor! you are destroying us. You bloody dog! We will bind you ourselves, and give you up to Yeremi, and thus secure our lives. Death to you, not to us!”  28
  “To-morrow I will give you the prince and all his army, or perish myself,” answered Krívonos.  29
  But the hoped-for to-morrow had yet to come, and the present to-day was a day of defeat and disorder. Several thousand of the best warriors of the lower country, not counting the mob, lay on the field of battle, or were drowned in the pond and river. Nearly two thousand were taken prisoners; fourteen colonels were killed, not counting sotniks, essauls, and other elders. Pulyan, next in command to Krívonos, had fallen into the hands of the enemy alive, but with broken ribs.  30
  “To-morrow we will cut them all up,” said Krívonos. “I will neither eat nor drink till it is done.”  31
  In the opposite camp the captured banners were thrown down at the feet of the terrible prince. Each of the captors brought his own, so that they formed a considerable crowd,—altogether forty. When Zagloba passed by, he threw his down with such force that the staff split. Seeing this, the prince detained him, and asked:—  32
  “And you captured that banner with your own hands?”  33
  “At your service, your Highness.”  34
  “I see that you are not only a Ulysses, but an Achilles.”  35
  “I am a simple soldier, but I serve under Alexander of Macedon.”  36
  “Since you receive no wages, the treasurer will pay you, in addition to what you have had, two hundred ducats for this honorable exploit.”  37
  Zagloba seized the prince by the knees, and said, “Your favor is greater than my bravery, which would gladly hide itself behind its own modesty.”  38
  A scarcely visible smile wandered over the dark face of Skshetuski; but the knight was silent, and even later on he never said anything to the prince, or any one else, of the fears of Zagloba before the battle: but Zagloba himself walked away with such threatening mien that, seeing him, the soldiers of the other regiments pointed at him, saying:—  39
  “He is the man who did most to-day.”  40
  Night came. On both sides of the river and the pond, thousands of fires were burning, and smoke rose to the sky in columns. The wearied soldiers strengthened themselves with food and gorailka, or gave themselves courage for to-morrow’s battle by relating the exploits of the present day. But loudest of all spoke Zagloba, boasting of what he had done, and what he could have done if his horse had not failed.  41
  “I can tell you,” said he, turning to the officers of the prince and the nobles of Tishkyevich’s command, “that great battles are no novelty for me. I was in many of them in Moldavia and Turkey; but when I was on the field I was afraid—not of the enemy, for who is afraid of such trash!—but of my own impulsiveness, for I thought immediately that it would carry me too far.”  42
  “And did it?”  43
  “It did. Ask Skshetuski. The moment I saw Vershul falling with his horse, I wanted to gallop to his aid without asking a question. My comrades could scarcely hold me back.”  44
  “True,” said Skshetuski, “we had to hold you in.”  45
  “But,” interrupted Karvich, “where is Vershul?”  46
  “He has already gone on a scouting expedition: he knows no rest.”  47
  “See then, gentlemen,” said Zagloba, displeased at the interruption, “how I captured the banner.”  48
  “Then Vershul is not wounded?” inquired Karvich again.  49
  “This is not the first one that I have captured in my life, but none cost me such trouble.”  50
  “He is not wounded, only bruised,” answered Azulevich, a Tartar, “and has gulped water, for he fell head first into the pond.”  51
  “Then I wonder the fish didn’t die,” said Zagloba with anger, “for the water must have boiled from such a flaming head.”  52
  “But he is a great warrior.”  53
  “Not so great, since a half John 1 was enough for him. Tfu! it is impossible to talk with you. You might learn from me how to capture banners from the enemy.”  54
Note 1. A pun on “Pulyan,” which in Polish means “half Yan” or John. [back]

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