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by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
Page 5
The supper was boiling in the saucepan. Ignatz cautiously crept into the room; no one spoke to him. They were all silent and strangely ill at ease. The old man was not mentioned; it was as if he had never been.

Antek thought of his five acres; he looked upon them as a certainty. Momentarily the old man came into his mind, and then again the sow he had meant to kill when she had finished with the sucking-pigs. Again and again he spat when his eyes fell on the empty bedstead, as if he wanted to get rid of an unpleasant thought. He was worried, did not finish his supper, and went to bed immediately after. He turned over from side to side; the potatoes and cabbage, groats and bread gave him indigestion, but he got over it and went to sleep.

When all was silent, Antkowa gently opened the door into the next room where the bundles of flax lay. From underneath these she fetched a packet of banknotes wrapped up in a linen rag, and added the money. She smoothed the notes many times over, opened them out, folded them up again, until she had gazed her fill; then she put out the light and went to bed beside her husband.

Meanwhile the old man had died. The pigsty, a miserable lean-to run up of planks and thatched with branches, gave no protection against wind and weather. No one heard the helpless old man entreating for mercy in a voice trembling with despair. No one saw him creep to the closed door and raise himself with a superhuman effort to try and open it. He felt death gaining upon him; from his heels it crept upwards to his chest, holding it as in a vice, and shaking him in terrible spasms; his jaws closed upon each other, tighter and tighter, until he was no longer able to open them and scream. His veins were hardening till they felt like wires. He reared up feebly, till at last he broke down on the threshold, with foam on his lips, and a look of horror at being left to die of cold, in his broken eyes; his face was distorted by an expression of anguish which was like a frozen cry. There he lay.

The next morning before dawn Antek and his wife got up. His first thought was to see what had happened to the old man.

He went to look, but could not get the door of the pigsty to open, the corpse was barring it from the inside like a beam. At last, after a great effort, he was able to open it far enough to slip in, but he came out again at once, terror-stricken. He could hardly get fast enough across the yard and into the house; he was almost senseless with fear. He could not understand what was happening to him; his whole frame shook as in a fever, and he stood by the door panting and unable to utter a word.

Antkowa was at that moment teaching little Magda her prayer. She turned her head towards her husband with questioning eyes.

'Thy will be done...' she babbled thoughtlessly.

'Thy will...'

'... be done...'

'... be done...' the kneeling child repeated like an echo.

'Well, is he dead?' she jerked out, '...on earth...'

'... on earth...'

'To be sure, he's lying across the door,' he answered under his breath.

'... as it is in Heaven...'

'... is in Heaven...' 'But we can't leave him there; people might say we took him there to get rid of him--we can't have that...'

'What do you want me to do with him?'

'How do I know? You must do something.'

'Perhaps we can get him across here?' suggested Antek.

'Look at that now...let him rot! Bring him in here? Not if...'

'Idiot, he will have to be buried.'

'Are we to pay for his funeral?...but deliver us from evil...what are you blinking your silly eyes for?...go on praying.'


'I shouldn't think of paying for that, that's Tomek's business by law and right.'

'... Amen...'


She made the sign of the cross over the child, wiped its nose with her fingers and went up to her husband.

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