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by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
Page 7
The news of the old man's death spread rapidly throughout the village. People soon began to assemble in little groups to look at the corpse. They murmured a prayer, shook their heads, and went off to talk it over.

It was not till towards evening that Tomek, the other son-in-law, under pressure of public opinion, declared himself willing to pay for the funeral.

On the third day, shortly before this was to take place, Tomek's wife made her appearance at Antek's cottage.

In the passage she almost came nose to nose with her sister, who was just taking a pail of dishwater out to the cowshed.

'Blessed be Jesus Christ,' she murmured, and kept her hand on the door-handle.

'Now: look at that... soul of a Judas!' Antkowa put the pail down hard. 'She's come to spy about here. Got rid of the old one somehow, didn't you? Hasn't he given everything to you... and you dare show yourself here, you trull! Have you come for the rest of the rags he left here, what?'

'I bought him a new sukmana at Whitsuntide, he can keep that on, of course, but I must have the sheepskin back, because it has been bought with money I have earned in the sweat of my brow,' Tomekowa replied calmly.

'Have it back, you mangy dog, have it back?' screamed Antkowa. 'I'll give it you, you'll see what you will have...' and she looked round for an object that would serve her purpose. 'Take it away? You dare! You have crawled to him and lickspittled till he became the idiot he was and made everything over to you and wronged me, and then...'

'Everybody knows that we bought the land from him, there are witnesses...'

'Bought it? Look at her! You mean to say you're not afraid to lie like that under God's living eyes? Bought it! Cheats, that's what you are, thieves, dogs! You stole the money from him first, and then.... Didn't you make him eat out of the pig-pail? Adam is a witness that he had to pick the potatoes out of the pig-pail, ha! You've let him sleep in the cowshed, because, you said, he stank so that you couldn't eat. Fifteen acres of land and a dower-life like that... for so much property! And you've beaten him too, you swine, you monkey!'

'Hold your snout, or I'll shut it for you and make you remember, you sow, you trull!'

'Come on then, come on, you destitute creature!' 'I... destitute?'

'Yes, you! You would have rotted in a ditch, the vermin would have eaten you up, if Tomek hadn't married you.'

'I, destitute? Oh you carrion!' They sprang at each other, clutching at each other's hair; they fought in the narrow passage, screaming themselves hoarse all the time.

'You street-walker, you loafer... there! that's one for you! There's one for my fifteen acres, and for all the wrong you have done me, you dirty dog!'

'For the love of God, you women, leave off, leave off! It's a sin and a shame!' cried the neighbours.

'Let me go, you leper, will you let go?'

'I'll beat you to death, I will tear you to pieces, you filth!'

They fell down, hitting each other indiscriminately, knocked over the pail, and rolled about in the pigwash. At last, speechless with rage and only breathing hard, they still banged away at each other. The men were hardly able to separate them. Purple in the face, scratched all over, and covered with filth, they looked like witches. Their fury was boundless; they sprang at each other again, and had to be separated a second time.

At last Antkowa began to sob hysterically with rage and exhaustion, tore her own hair and wailed: 'Oh Jesus! Oh little child Jesus! Oh Mary! Look at this pestiferous woman...curse those heathen...oh! oh!...' she was only able to roar, leaning against the wall.

Tomekowa, meanwhile, was cursing and shouting outside the house, and banging her heels against the door.

The spectators stood in little groups, taking counsel with each other, and stamping their feet in the snow. The women looked like red spots dabbed on to the wall; they pressed their knees together, for the wind was penetratingly cold. They murmured remarks to each other from time to time, while they watched the road leading to the church, the spires of which stood out clearly behind the branches of the bare trees. Every minute some one or other wanted to have another look at the corpse; it was a perpetual coming and going. The small yellow flames of the candles could be seen through the half-open door, flaring in the draught, and momentarily revealing a glimpse of the dead man's sharp profile as he lay in the coffin. The smell of burning juniper floated through the air, together with the murmurings of prayers and the grunts of the deaf-mute.

At last the priest arrived with the organist. The white pine coffin was carried out and put into the cart. The women began to sing the usual lamentations, while the procession started down the long village street towards the cemetery. The priest intoned the first words of the Service for the Dead, walking at the head of the procession with his black biretta on his head; he had thrown a thick fur cloak over his surplice; the wind made the ends of his stole flutter; the words of the Latin hymn fell from his lips at intervals, dully, as though they had been frozen; he looked bored and impatient, and let his eyes wander into the distance. The wind tugged at the black banner, and the pictures of heaven and hell on it wobbled and fluttered to and fro, as though anxious to display themselves to the rows of cottages on either side, where women with shawls over their heads and bare-headed men were standing huddled together.

They bowed reverently, made the sign of the cross, and beat their breasts.

The dogs were barking furiously from behind the hedges, some jumped on to the stone walls and broke into long-drawn howls.

Eager little children peeped out from behind the closed windows, beside toothless used-up old people's faces, furrowed as fields in autumn.

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