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by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
Page 4
The room suddenly seemed strangely empty. The lamp above the fireplace trembled feebly. The little girl was sobbing to herself.

'What are you snivelling about?'

'Mummy...oh... oh...grandad...'

She leant, weeping, against her mother's knee.

'Leave off, idiot!'

She took the child on her lap, and, pressing her close, she began to clean her head. The little thing babbled incoherently, she looked feverish; she rubbed her eyes with her small fists and presently went to sleep, still sobbing convulsively from time to time.

Soon afterwards the husband returned home. He was a huge fellow in a sheepskin, and wore a muffler round his cap. His face was blue with cold; his moustache, covered with hoar-frost, looked like a brush. He knocked the snow off his boots, took muffler and cap off together, dusted the snow off his fur, clapped his stiff hands against his arms, pushed the bench towards the fire, and sat down heavily.

Antkowa took a saucepan full of cabbage off the fire and put it in front of her husband, cut a piece of bread and gave it him, together with the spoon. The peasant ate in silence, but when he had finished he undid his fur, stretched his legs, and said: 'Is there any more?'

She gave him the remains of their midday porridge; he spooned it up after he had cut himself another piece of bread; then he took out his pouch, rolled a cigarette and lighted it, threw some sticks on the fire and drew closer to it. A good while later he looked round the room. 'Where's the old man?'

'Where should he be? In the pigsty.'

He looked questioningly at her.

'I should think so! What should he loll in the bed for, and dirty the bedclothes? If he's got to give up, he will give up all the quicker in there.... Has he given me a single thing? What should he come to me for? Am I to pay for his funeral and give him his food? If he doesn't give up now--and I tell you, he is a tough one--then he'll eat us out of house and home. If Julina is to have everything let her look after him--that's nothing to do with me.'

'Isn't my father... and cheated us... he has. I don't care.... The old speculator!'

Antek swallowed the smoke of his cigarette and spat into the middle of the room.

'If he hadn't cheated us we should now have... wait a minute... we've got five... and seven and a half... makes... five and... seven...'

'Twelve and a half. I had counted that up long ago; we could have kept a horse and three cows... bah!... the carrion!'

Again he spat furiously.

The woman got up, laid the child down on the bed, took the little rag bundle from the chest and put it into her husband's hand.

'What's that?'

'Look at it.'

He opened the linen rag. An expression of greed came into his face, he bent forward towards the fire with his whole frame, so as to hide the money, and counted it over twice. 'How much is it?'

She did not know the money values.

'Fifty-four roubles.'

'Lord! So much?'

Her eyes shone; she stretched out her hand and fondled the money.

'How did you come by it?'

'Ah bah... how? Don't you remember the old man telling us last year that he had put by enough to pay for his funeral?'

'That's right, he did say that.'

'He had stitched it into his chaplet and I took it from him; holy things shouldn't knock about in a pigsty, that would be sinful; then I felt the silver through the linen, so I tore that off and took the money. That is ours; hasn't he wronged us enough?'

'That's God's truth. It's ours; that little bit at least is coming back to us. Put it by with the other money, we can just do with it. Only yesterday Smoletz told me he wanted to borrow a thousand roubles from me; he will give his five acres of ploughed fields near the forest as security.'

'Have you got enough?'

'I think I have.'

'And will you begin to sow the fields yourself in the spring?'

'Rather... if I shouldn't have quite enough now, I will sell the sow; even if I should have to sell the little ones as well I must lend him the money. For he won't be able to redeem it,' he added, 'I know what I know. We shall go to the lawyer and make a proper contract that the ground will be mine unless he repays the money within five years.'

'Can you do that?'

'Of course I can. How did Dumin get hold of Dyziak's fields?... Put it away; you may keep the silver, buy what you like with it. Where's Ignatz?'

'He's run off somewhere. Ha! No water, it's all gone....'

The peasant got up without a word, looked after the cattle, went in and out, fetched water and wood.

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