When the two sons of Taras Bulba returned home after finishing their studies at the Royal Seminary in Kiev, their father ridiculed their monastic garb. Ostap, the older of the two brothers, insisted that any insult must be avenged, and father and son began to exchange blows. Taras, learning in this manner that Ostap was a stout contender, embraced him heartily. The father also would have liked to try the mettle of his younger son, Andrii, but his wife intervened, preventing any more fistfights.
In honor of his sons’ arrival, Taras entertained all the local officers of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. Under the stimulus of corn brandy, Taras resolved to take his sons the next day to the Setch, the permanent camp of the fighting Cossacks. The mother was heartbroken to hear that she must part with her sons, but Taras was firm. Before the party left for the encampment, all sat down, even the servants, while the mother blessed her sons and gave them holy pictures to wear around their necks.
Taras Bulba and his sons rode off together across the steppes, each concerned with his own thoughts. Taras was a Cossack leader imbued with the old-fashioned ideas that the only good life was that of the soldier. Ostap, when first enrolled at the seminary, had found life there unbearable; but he gradually grew accustomed to scholastic life and became a good student. Though not a leader at the seminary, he was willing to follow other boys whose main interests, like his own, were war and revelry. Andrii was of a different sort. He was a willing student and a better leader, but he was also passionately fond of women, who came in his dreams to trouble his sleep. He remembered a beautiful girl who one day had laughed from her window. Learning that she was the daughter of the Polish Waiwode of Koven, Andrii daringly visited the girl in her bedroom the following night. To his regret, she left the city with her father soon afterward.
Three days later Taras and his sons reached the suburb of the Setch, where the workmen and merchants for the great encampment were located. Finally they came to the Setch itself, and the Cossacks uproariously greeted Taras, their old comrade-in-arms. The only requirements for admission to the Setch were belief in Christ, the Holy Trinity, and the Church. If the members lacked money, they simply plundered the merchants in the suburb. Andrii and Ostap fitted well into this wild life and soon gained recognition among the Cossacks for their bravery and daring.
Not wanting his sons to be idle, Taras consulted the Cossack leader about the possibility of stirring up some bold enterprise. Taras suggested attacking the Turks, but he was told that a treaty of peace had been signed with the sultan. Sly Taras then arranged for a meeting of the whole encampment, at which Kirdyaga, a...
(The entire section is 1149 words.)