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was exhausted, another is here commenced : and as the ground over which I now propose to ramble will be entirely new, I cannot but hope, that while I may retain all my old friends, I may, before I reach the end of our journey, add to the number many of those who at starting I can unfortunately only regard as strangers.
And now, as a fitting Introduction to the LAYS AND LEGENDS OF THE Cossacks, for a few words on the subject of that very peculiar race of people.
The Cossacks are supposed, and with great probability, to derive their name either from the province of Kaschia, or from the word Kasak, which in Turkish signifies a robber, but in the Tartarian language a wandering but lightly-armed soldier. The Cossacks of the present day are obviously indebted for their handsome persons to the intermarriage of the tribe with women of the Circassian race. They are for the most part members of the Greek Church; but their internal government is entirely different from that of the other Russians, and exclusively military—the choice of their chief or Hettman being, however, always subject to the approval of the Russian government. War is the business of their lives; and they are principally employed upon the frontiers as a watch over, and a protection from, the neighbouring states.
Their origin is supposed, with great probability, to date from the Polish war in the 14th century, when the wandering inhabitants of Little Russia settled on the eastern side of the Bug and the Dniester, and there erected dwellings and military strongholds, from whence they sallied forth on spoliatory excursions against their neighbours. The King Sigismund J. awarded them a tract of country beyond the fall of the Dnieper, where they founded their principal city of Tscherkask. Stephen Batori, in 1575, awarded them several privileges, divided them into pulks or companies, each under the command of a Hettman, and granted them the city of Trechimirow. Sigismund III. curtailed these privileges, and endeavoured to compel them to discontinue their predatory ravages, and to convert them to the Romish Church. The result was a long-continued war, which ended in their withdrawing themselves from the Polish government during the reign of John Casimir, and allying themselves, the one part with the Turks, the others with the Russians. Those who placed themselves under the protection of Russia rebelled in 1708 under Mazeppa, but were, however, eventually subdued by Peter 1. The office of Hettman was abolished in 1722, but re-established in 1750. The Cossacks are divided into two classes,—those of Little Russia and those of the Don; the
And though, in this cast-iron age, when railroads supply the place of seven-league boots, such relics of the “good old times"
“That most happy, happy season,
Ere bright fancy bent to reason,"are fast disappearing, they are not yet (to speak in the language of George Robins), GONE. The communication, therefore, of any of these inedited traditions
-" quas ad ignem aniculæ
Narrant puellis'' will be esteemed by me as a personal favour.
former are by far the more civilized; the latter, who are descended from the Zaporagians, and in their chief settlements do not permit marriage, are styled Haidamakes by the Poles. In 1774, a portion of them connected themselves with the Tartars, but re-united themselves with Russia in 1794-and what good service they did the state when Napoleon invaded that country, can never be forgotten.
Such is a brief sketch of the people—who, possessing no written literature, have still floating among them a vast body of traditions, in which the history of their origin, their prosperity and their decline, is undoubtedly contained, although interwoven with much that is mere fiction. If there ever were a nation to whom Sir John Malcolm's observation, that “he who desires to be well acquainted with a people will not reject their Popular Stories or Local Superstitions," would apply-it must surely do so to the Cossacks; and we ought therefore 10 be grateful to the Polish author, Michael Czarkowski, who has devoted his time and labour to collect the legends; and has moreover been contented, instead of decking them out with the decorations of style, and other artificial embellishments of a professed writer, to record them just as he heard them from the professed story tellers, in whose memories they have hitherto been preserved.
I hope I shall be considered as acting rightly in following this example, and obeying the judicious directions of glorious old Chaucer.
“ Who so shall telle a tale after a man
THE HILL OF THE THREE SISTERS. In the neighbourhood of the village of Haltschinjetz, not far from Berditschew;* there rises a hill, the foot of which is traversed by several roads running in different directions ; its summit is thickly covered with weeds and stunted briars—while in its bosom there are buried numerous relics of by-gone days. Many and varied are the traditions concerning it which have sprung from the teeming imagination of those whom business or amusement has induced to resort to it. The children of the neighbourhood, who at the time of the summer solstice go there in search of glow-worms, ofttimes see strange forms arise out of the underwood, which gradually increase till they form one huge ball of fire, which then rolls slowly towards the village. The affrighted youngsters hide themselves as quickly as possible in the surrounding rushes, but as soon as the phantom fire becomes stationary, they rise on tip-toe, give the signal one to another, and burst forth into a loud shout. The flame gradually gets paler and paler, until at last it vanishes into air. The little victors return with merry steps back to their play place, when lo, a fresh troop of phantom fires arise from the earth, and, after following
* Berditschew, a city in the Principality of Radzivill, seated on the river Giulopiat, containing 20,000 inhabitants, where the principal part of the commerce between Germany and the South of Russia is carried.
for awhile the astonished children, remain steadfast; at which taking fresh courage, they boldly attack the phantom and stamp it out. Thus they wile away the time in contests with the spirits, which furnish them, when they turn homeward, with materials for strange tales, which they do not fail to enrich with many wondrous imaginings. The good housewives of the neighbourhood whisper cautiously to one another hints about witches and sorcerers ; but the men, on the contrary, when the hill and the mysterious fires are spoken of, pretend great ignorance upon the subject. None of them ever venture to ascend it after night-fall; and the unhappy villager who is at that time compelled to pass its foot, finds his blood run cold, his hair stand on end, and his limbs trembling with a death-like chillness.
In Haltschinjetz, the venerable Lewko was the only person who ever mounted the hill, for his hut lay close by; but he never conversed with any one respecting that unhallowed spot, or the phantoms which so frequently appeared there.
Late one evening-it was the vigil of St. Michael-Lewko sate on the hill-top. Now his eyes were directed towards the village, now was his forehead almost buried in the earth-which he kept digging up with a stout staff, as though he would dig himself an entrance into the world below, and learn from what had passed away a knowledge of the future. A hollow wind sounded mournfully as it rattled through the withered grass, and he occasionally struck a few loud notes on the strings of his Balabaika," which lay on the ground beside him ; and the tones which he called forth sounded as though they would, by their divine harmony, uphold the seer in weaving his phantastic web. The clouds passed rapidly; and as a goodly company of steel-clad knights passing by a spectator display to him a glittering helm, or a burnished spear shining through the dust which they stir up, so ever and anon did the beams of the moon or of some glittering star shine forth from the blackness which surrounded them. At the foot of the old man lay a milk-white greyhound, his hind legs closely drawn up, his fore legs stretched out before him; his serpent eyes rested on the earth; he stirred at every sound, and listened, half pricking up those ears which fell like silken hangings on each side of his graceful neck—then looked up into the face of his old master and wagged his tail.
At length a cock was heard to crow the midnight hour at some neighbouring farm ;-at this sound, a dog in Haltschinjetz began to howl; so did a second, and a third, until the howling was heard to extend from the village all over the surrounding plain.
Just then two riders on coal-black steeds sprang from a doorway as hastily as if they were in search of the head of the Khan of Tartary, or the treasures of the Grand Duke. The noise of their horses' feet approached nearer to the old man; he listened, and heard a sound as though something had fallen to the ground. The greyhound started to his feet, and would have darted forward, but, being checked by a low whistle from the old man, stood stretching out his neck in the direction from which the sound proceeded. Lewko now saw two horses standing at the cross road, and two men ascending the hill : he hallooed to them, and as they returned his cry, the echo spread far and wide around them.
* Balabaika, an instrument of four strings, something like the ancient Theorbo, the tones of which are very agreeable.
The men approached and exchanged greetings. “Now, father Lewko,” said one, here we are," will you keep your promise ?”—“ What is once promised," answered Lewko, " that must man fulfil. But if ye would hear the tale, so must you needs believe it--for if the woman gets angry and mutters a curse against you,* woe befall you. It is an easy matter to raise the devil, but not so easy to escape from his clutches. But to my story.
“In those happy days when Bohdanko led the Cossacks, and Poles, Tartars, and Zaporagians feasted together at the table of the Hettman in Trechtymirow-the city which King Stephen Batori bestowed upon the Cossack people,-in those happy days, when three mighty people combined to bridle the insolence of the border chieftains,-there was a farm at Kodenka-yonder, where you see that black alder tree, which belonged to the Dudar family,—the earthen dyke which surrounded it is not yet levelled.t There stood a hut, in which dwelt a woman whom they called Sukuricha. Some said she was a witch ; others called her a prophetess; for she healed diseases, dealt in charms, called down hail and rain, made rich lands barren, and scattered good luck with the one hand and misfortune with the other.
“ Now Sukuricha had three daughters, sprightly and graceful as bleak, nimble and active as wild cats—the redness of their cheeks was like the moss-berry on the dazzling snow, when the sun shines bright. When they began to sing, the nightingale would listen to their songs, and when they were ended would try to warble forth the same sweet melody. If they moved their little feet in a measured dance, the very earth quivered with joy. Thus their days passed without care and without sorrow ; and all the youths of the neighbourhood Hocked around them, like flies round honey. How blest was he who opened the dance with one of these fair ones !--did one of them but fasten a golden floweret in his bonnet, his good fortune seemed unbounded; yet the hearts and affections of these maidens remained as free as the flight of the bird through the air.
“One fine summer's afternoon, they were seated in the house-porch, spinning and talking over the last Sunday's dance, when they saw three horsemen riding by. The gate of the court-yard was open, and quick as an arrow, with a deer-like bound, a Cossack mounted on a horse of the desert sprang into the middle of it. The youngest of the sisters gazed upon the sunburnt face of the rider, and upon his waving Kolpak, (head-dress,) and her heart Auttered,
* Literally, “bespeaks you," or brings down misfortune upon you by muttering charms. This belief is so deeply and firmly rooted throughout the whole of the Ukraine, that mothers are afraid to show their children, huntsmen their hounds, horsemen their horses, mechanics their work, to any stranger, from the fear that they may be “ spoken to.”.
+ In the Ukraine, every house, with the fields, &c. belonging to it, is separated from the others by an earthen dyke or wall-which is renewed or repaired every year-and supplies the place of the green hedgerow, which in England not only serves as the landmark, but adds so greatly to the beauty of the scenery.
and her cheeks grew as red as blood, even to her very ears. He was immediately followed by a Tartarian Mirza, whose horse seemed as if it were swimming-so easily and so gently did the beast lift its nimble feet over the earth. The second maiden beheld the black eyes of the Tartar, and his rich dress of silvery fur, and her heart beat violently in her trembling bosom, and she cast her eyes upon the ground. Close behind them rode a Pole, so skilfully that he made his good steed prance and beat the air with his fore legs so that his haunches rested on the ground and the eldest of the sisters gazed upon his glittering arms, shining helm, and cheerful countenance, and her heart beat for very joy, and she bestowed a look of womanly love u pon the smiler.
“ Now what could these maidens do? Their mother was from home, and the rights of hospitality were claimed. The strangers were kindly invited to fasten up their steeds and enter the dwelling, where their skilful hostesses soon laid before them refreshment-cream and pickled cucumbers. The behaviour of their guests was courteous in the extreme, and in each of them a thousand agreeable qualities were soon discovered. Coyness at first limited their conversation to brief questions, and answers just as brief-but this did not last long; the jest and the laugh went round, though oft there was no other cause for it, than some whimsical fancy of the minute; then followed gentle words, arrow-like glances of the eyes, and lastly an innocent kiss, stolen as it were in fun. It may readily be believed that they were in no hurry to resume their journey.-- You will travel more pleasantly in the cool of the evening,' said the maidens—and one word from a pretty mouth is a command to a brave man,
“ The whole party indeed felt as delighted, as overjoyed, as though Paradise were their dwelling place—when suddenly, their joy was interrupted as it were by a thunderbolt by the return of Sukuricha. Not kindly did she welcome her guests; and as she stole a sidelong glance at the burning cheeks of her daughters, her eyes were as full of venom as those of an adder whose lurking place is disturbed by man. The young men tarried but a little while ere they departed; and as they journeyed on, they spake not a word, for sorrow weighed heavily upon their hearts, and their thoughts were fixed on those they had left behind them. The Cossack dreamed, probably for the first time in his life, of the joys and advantages of a married life,* and resolved at the next gathering together of his people to lift up his voice and try whether he could not do away with the law forbidding marriage. The Tartars weighed against one another the doctrines of Christianity and of Mahomed the Prophet, and at last came to the conclusion that the followers of both bowed themselves before the same Supreme Creator, and that a difference of belief ought not to hinder the alliance of those who loved one another. The Pole wished earnestly for equality of rank, regarded as a mere toy his family arms—a black raven on an azure field-went back to the time of Adam and Eve, and at last satisfied himself— We are all children of
* The laws of the Zaporagian Cossacks did not allow any of the tribe to marry, nor any woman to reside in the encampment, or within two miles of it. Any man desiring to marry must strike his name out of the register of the tribe.