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Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society
BRANTFORD POLISH HALL, 154 Pearl St. BRANTFORD, ON.
519-753-0414
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Death

by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
Page 2
Dyziakowa went out, while the other woman began to put the room in order; she scraped the dirt off the floor, swept it up, strewed wood-ashes, scrubbed her pots and pans and put them in a row. From time to time she turned a look of hatred on to the bed, spat, clenched her fists, and held her head in helpless despair.

'Fifteen acres of land, the pigs, three cows, furniture, clothes--half of it, I'm sure, would come to six thousand... good God!'

And as though the thought of so large a sum was giving her fresh vigour, she scrubbed her saucepans with a fury that made the walls ring, and banged them down on the board.

'May you... may you!' She continued to count up: 'Fowls, geese, calves, all the farm implements. And all left to that trull! May misery eat you up... may the worms devour you in the ditch for the wrong you have done me, and for leaving me no better off than an orphan!'

She sprang towards the bed in a towering rage and shouted:

'Get up! 'And when the old man did not move, she threatened him with her fists and screamed into his face:

'That's what you've come here for, to do your dying here, and I am to pay for your funeral and buy you a hooded cloak... that's what he thinks. I don't think! You won't live to see me do it! If your Julina is so sweet, you'd better make haste and go to her. Was it I who was supposed to look after you in your dotage? She is the pet, and if you think...'

She did not finish, for she heard the tinkling of the bell, and the priest entered with the sacrament.

Antkowa bowed down to his feet, wiping tears of rage from her eyes, and after she had poured the holy water into a chipped basin and put the asperges-brush beside it, she went out into the passage, where a few people who had come with the priest were waiting already.

'Christ be praised.'

'In Eternity.'

'What is it?'

'Oh nothing! Only that he's come here to give up... with us, whom he has wronged. And now he won't give up. Oh dear me... poor me!'

She began to cry.

'That's true! He will have to rot, and you will have to live,' they all answered in unison and nodded their heads.

'One's own father,' she began again. '... Have we, Antek and I, not taken care of him, worked for him, sweated for him, just as much as they? Not a single egg would I sell, not half a pound of butter, but put it all down his throat; the little drop of milk I have taken away from the baby and given it to him, because he was an old man and my father... and now he goes and gives it all to Tomek. Fifteen acres of land, the cottage, the cows, the pigs, the calf, and the farm-carts and all the furniture... is that nothing? Oh, pity me! There's no justice in this world, none... Oh, oh!'

She leant against the wall, sobbing loudly.

'Don't cry, neighbour, don't cry. God is full of mercy, but not always towards the poor. He will reward you some day.'

'Idiot, what's the good of talking like that?' interrupted the speaker's husband. 'What's wrong is wrong. The old man will go, and poverty will stay.'

'It's hard to make an ox move when he won't lift up his feet,' another man said thoughtfully.

'Eh... You can get used to everything in time, even to hell,' murmured a third, and spat from between his teeth.

The little group relapsed into silence. The wind rattled the door and blew snow through the crevices on to the floor. The peasants stood thoughtfully, with bared heads, and stamped their feet to get warm. The women, with their hands under their cotton aprons, and huddled together, looked with patient resigned faces towards the door of the living-room.

At last the bell summoned them into the room; they entered one by one, pushing each other aside. The dying man was lying on his back, his head deeply buried in the pillows; his yellow chest, covered with white hair, showed under the open shirt. The priest bent over him and laid the wafer upon his outstretched tongue. All knelt down and, with their eyes raised to the ceiling, violently smote their chests, while they sighed and sniffled audibly. The women bent down to the ground and babbled: 'Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world.'

The dog, worried by the frequent tinkling of the bell, growled ill-temperedly in the corner.

The priest had finished the last unction, and beckoned to the dying man's daughter. 'Where's yours, Antkowa?'

'Where should he be, your Reverence, if not at his daily job?'

For a moment the priest stood, hesitating, looked at the assembly, pulled his expensive fur tighter round his shoulders; but he could not think of anything suitable to say; so he only nodded to them and went out, giving them his white, aristocratic hand to kiss, while they bent towards his knees.

When he had gone they immediately dispersed. The short December day was drawing to its close. The wind had gone down, but the snow was now falling in large, thick flakes. The evening twilight crept into the room. Antkowa was sitting in front of the fire; she broke off twig after twig of the dry firewood, and carelessly threw them upon the fire.

She seemed to be purposing something, for she glanced again and again at the window, and then at the bed. The sick man had been lying quite still for a considerable time. She got very impatient, jumped up from her stool and stood still, eagerly listening and looking about; then she sat down again.




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