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The Outpost 

by Boleslaw Prus (Aleksander Glowacki)
CHAPTER XI

Within half an hour the priest's round ponies stood at Slimak's gate. The priest walked towards the stable with a lantern in one hand and a basket in the other, pushed open the door with his foot, and saw Slimakowa's body. Further away, on the litter, sat the peasant, shading his eyes from the light.

'Who is that?' he asked.

'It is I, your priest.'

Slimak sprang to his feet, with deep astonishment on his face. He advanced with unsteady steps to the threshold, and gazed at the priest with open mouth.

'What have you come for, your Reverence?'

'I have come to bring you the divine blessing. Put on your sheepskin, it is cold here. Have something to eat.' He unpacked the basket.

Slimak stared, touched the priest's sleeve, and suddenly fell sobbing at his feet.

'I am wretched, your Reverence...I am wretched...wretched!'

'Benedicat te omnipotens Deus!' Instead of making the sign of the cross, the priest put his arm round the peasant and drew him on to the threshold.

'Calm yourself, brother, all will be well. God does not forsake His children.'

He kissed him and wiped his tears. With almost a howl the peasant threw himself at his feet.

'Now I don't mind if I die, or if I go to hell for my sins! I've had this consolation that your Reverence has taken pity on me. If I were to go to the Holy City on my knees, it would not be enough to repay you for your kindness.'

He touched the ground at the priest's feet as though it were the altar. The priest had to use much persuasion before he put on his sheepskin and consented to touch food.

'Take a good pull,' he said, pouring out the mead.

'I dare not, your Reverence.'

'Well, then I will drink to you.' He touched the glass with his lips.

The peasant took the glass with trembling hands and drank kneeling, swallowing with difficulty.

'Don't you like it?'

'Like it? Vodka is nothing compared to this!' Slimak's voice sounded natural again. 'Isn't it just full of spice!' he added, and revived rapidly.

'Now tell me all about it,' began the priest: 'I remember you as a prosperous gospodarz.'

'It would be a long story to tell your Reverence. One of my sons was drowned, the other is in jail; my wife is dead, my horses were stolen, my house burnt down. It all began with the squire's selling the village, and with the railway and the Germans coming here. Then Josel set everyone against me, because I had been selling fowls and other things to the surveyors; even now he is doing his best to...'

'But why does everyone go to Josel for advice?' interrupted the priest.

'To whom is one to go, begging your Reverence's pardon? We peasants are ignorant people. The Jews know about everything, and sometimes they give good advice.'

The priest winced. The peasant continued excitedly:

'There were no wages coming in from the manor, and the Germans took the two acres I had rented from the squire.'

'But let me see,' said the priest, 'wasn't it you to whom the squire offered those two acres at a great deal less than they were worth?'

'Certainly it was me!'

'Why didn't you take the offer? I suppose you did not trust him?'

'How can one trust them when one does not know what they are talking among themselves; they jabber like Jews, and when they talked to me they were poking fun at me. Besides, there was some talk of free distribution of land.'

'And you believed that?'

'Why should I not believe it? A man likes to believe what is to his advantage. The Jews knew it wasn't true, but they won't tell.'

'Why didn't you apply for work at the railway?'

'I did, but the Germans kept me out.'

'Why couldn't you have come to me? The chief engineer was living at my house all the time,' said the priest, getting angry.

'I beg your Reverence's pardon; I couldn't have known that, and I shouldn't have dared to apply to your Reverence.'

'Hm! And the Germans annoyed you?'

'Oh dear, oh dear!  Haven't they been pestering me to sell them my land all along, and when the fire came I gave way....'

'And you sold them the land?'

'God and my dead wife saved me from doing that. She got up from her deathbed and laid a curse upon me if I should sell the land. I would rather die than sell it, but all the same,' he hung his head, 'the Germans will pay me out.'

'I don't think they can do you much harm.'

'If the Germans leave,' continued the peasant, 'I shall be up against old Gryb, and he will do me as much harm as the Germans, or more.'

'I am a good shepherd!' the priest reflected bitterly. 'My sheep are fighting each other like wolves, go to the Jews for advice, are persecuted by the Germans, and I am going to entertainments!'

He got up. 'Stay here, my brother,' he said, 'I will go to the village.'

Slimak kissed his feet and accompanied him to the sledge.

'Drive across to the village,' he directed his coachman.

'To the village?' The coachman's face, which was so chubby that it looked as if it had been stung by bees, was comic in its astonishment:

'I thought we were going...'

'Drive where I tell you!'

Slimak leant on the fence, as in happier days.

'How could he have known about me?' he reflected. 'Is a priest like God who knows everything? They would not have brought him word from the village. It must have been good old Jonah. But now they will not dare to look askance at me, because his Reverence himself has come to see me. If he could only take the sin of my sending Maciek and the child to their death from me, I shouldn't be afraid of anything.'

Presently the priest returned.

'Are you there, Slimak?' he called out. 'Gryb will come to you to-morrow. Make it up with him and don't quarrel any more. I have sent to town for a coffin and am arranging for the funeral.'

'Oh Redeemer!' sighed Slimak.

'Now, Pawel! drive on as fast as the horses will go,' cried the priest. He pulled out his repeater watch: it was a quarter to ten.

'I shall be late,' he murmured, 'but not too late for everything; there will be time for some fun yet.'

As soon as the sledge had melted into the darkness, and silence again brooded over his home, an irresistible desire for sleep seized Slimak. He dragged himself to the stable, but he hesitated. He did not wish to lie down once more by the side of his dead wife, and went into the cowshed. Uneasy dreams pursued him; he dreamt that his dead wife was trying to force herself into the cowshed. He got up and looked into the stable. Slimakowa was lying there peacefully; two faint beams of light were reflected from the eyes which had not yet been closed.

A sledge stopped at the gate and Gryb came into the yard; his grey head shook and his yellowish eyes moved uneasily. He was followed by his man, who was carrying a large basket.

'I am to blame,' he cried, striking his chest, 'are you still angry with me?'

'God give you all that you desire,' said Slimak, bowing low, 'you are coming to me in my time of trouble.'

This humility pleased the old peasant; he grasped Slimak's hand and said in a more natural voice: 'I tell you, I am to blame, for his Reverence told me to say that. Therefore I am the first to make it up with you, although I am the elder. But I must say, neighbour, you did annoy me very much. However, I will not reproach you.'

'Forgive me the wrong I have done,' said Slimak, bending towards his shoulder, 'but to tell you the truth, I cannot remember ever having wronged you personally.'

'I won't mince matters, Slimak. You dealt with those railway people without consulting me.'

'Look at what I have earned by my trading,' said Slimak, pointing to his burnt homestead.

'Well, God has punished you heavily, and that is why I say: I am to blame. But when you came to church and your wife--God rest her eternally--bought herself a silk kerchief, you ought to have treated me to at least a pint of vodka, instead of speaking impertinently to me.'

'It's true, I boasted too early.'

'And then you made friends with the Germans and prayed with them.'

'I only took off my cap. Their God is the same as ours.'

Gryb shook his clenched fist in his face.

'What! their God is the same as ours? I tell you, he must be a different God, or why should they jabber to him in German? But never mind,' he changed his tone, 'all that's past and gone. You deserve well of us, because you did not let the Germans have your land. Hamer has already offered me his farm for midsummer.'

'Is that so?'

'Of course it is so. The scoundrels threatened to drive us all away, and they have smashed themselves against a small gospodarz of ten acres. You deserve God's blessing and our friendship for that. God rest your dead wife eternally! Many a time has she set you against me! I'll bear her no grudge on that account, however. And here, you see, all of us in the village are sending you some victuals.'

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Grochowski.

'I wouldn't believe Jonah, when he came to tell me all this,' he said, 'and you here, Gryb, too? Where is the defunct?'

They approached to the stable and knelt down in the snow. Only the murmuring of their prayers and Slimak's sobs were audible for a while. Then the men got up and praised the dead woman's virtues.

'I am bringing you a bird,' then said Grochowski, turning to Gryb; 'he is slightly wounded.'

'What do you mean?'

'It's your Jasiek. He attempted to steal my horses last night, and I treated him to a little lead.'

'Where is he?'

'In the sledge outside.'

Gryb ran off at a heavy trot. Blows and cries were heard, then the old man reappeared, dragging his son by the hair. The strong young fellow was crying like a child. He looked dishevelled and his clothes were torn; a bloodstained cloth was tied round his hand.

'Did you steal the Soltys' horses?' shouted his father.

'How should I not have stolen them? I did steal them!'

'Not quite,' said Grochowski, 'but he did steal Slimak's.'

'What?' cried Gryb, and began to lay on to his son again.

'I did, father. Leave off!' wailed Jasiek.

'My God, how did this come about?' asked the old man.

'That's simple enough,' sneered Grochowski, 'he found others as bad as himself, and they robbed the whole neighbourhood, till I winged him.'

'What do you propose to do now?' asked old Gryb between his blows.

'I'll mend my ways.'...'I'll marry Orzchewski's daughter,' wailed Jasiek.

'Perhaps this is not quite the moment for that,' said Grochowski, 'first you will go to prison.'

'You don't mean to charge him?' asked his father.

'I should prefer not to charge him, but the whole neighbourhood is indignant about the robberies. However, as he did not do me personally any harm, I am not bound to charge him.'

'What will you take?'

'Not a kopek less than a hundred and fifty roubles.'

'In that case, let him go to prison.'

'A hundred and fifty to me, and eighty to Slimak for the horses.'

Gryb took to his fists again.

'Who put you up to this?'

'Leave off!' cried Jasiek; 'it was Josel.'

'And why did you do as he told you?'

'Because I owe him a hundred roubles.'

'Oh Lord!' groaned Gryb, tearing his hair.

'Well, that's nothing to tear your hair about,' said Grochowski. 'Come; three hundred and thirty roubles between Slimak, Josel, and me; what is that to you?'

'I won't pay it.'

'All right! In that case he will go to prison. Come along.' He took the youth by the arm.

'Dad, have pity, I am your only son!'

The old man looked helplessly at the peasants in turn.

'Are you going to ruin my life for a paltry sum?'

'Wait...wait,' cried Gryb, seeing that the Soltys was in earnest. He took Slimak aside.

'Neighbour, if there is to be peace between us,' he said, 'I'll tell you what you will have to do.'

'What?'

'You'll have to marry my sister. You are a widower, she is a widow. You have ten acres, she has fifteen. I shall take her land, because it is close to mine, and give you fifteen acres of Hamer's land. You will have a gospodarstwo of twenty-five acres all in one piece.'

Slimak reflected for a while.

'I think,' he said at last,' Gawdrina's land is better than Hamer's.'

'All right! You shall have a bit more.'

Slimak scratched his head. 'Well, I don't know,' he said.

'It's agreed, then,' said Gryb, 'and now I'll tell you what you will have to do in return. You will pay a hundred and fifty roubles to Grochowski and a hundred to Josel.'

Slimak demurred.

'I haven't buried my wife yet.'

The old man's temper was rising.

'Rubbish! don't be a fool! How can a gospodarz get along without a wife? Yours is dead and gone, and if she could speak, she would say:

"Marry, Josef, and don't turn up your nose at a benefactor like Gryb."'

'What are you quarrelling about?' cried Grochowski.

'Look here, I am offering him my sister and fifteen acres of land, four cows and a pair of horses, to say nothing of the household property, and he can't make up his mind,' said Gryb, with awry face.

'Why, that's certainly worth while,' said Grochowski, 'and not a bad wife!'

'Aye, a good, hefty woman,' cried Gryb.

'You'll be quite a gentleman, Slimak,' added Grochowski.

Slimak sighed. 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'that Jagna did not live to see this.'

The agreement was carried out, and before Holy Week both Slimak and Gryb's son were married. By the autumn Slimak's new gospodarstwo was finished, and an addition to his family expected. His second wife not unfrequently reminded him that he had been a beggar and owed all his good fortune to her. At such times he would slip out of the house, lie under the lonely pine and meditate, recalling the strange struggle, when the Germans had lost their land and he his nearest and dearest.

When everybody else had forgotten Slimakowa, Stasiek, Maciek, and the child, he often remembered them, and also the dog Burek and the cow doomed to the butcher's knife for want of fodder.

Silly Zoska died in prison, old Sobieska at the inn. The others with whom my story is concerned, not excepting old Jonah, are alive and well.

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Boleslaw Prus
(1847-1912)
(Aleksander Glowacki)
Polish journalist, short-story writer, novelist of the Polish Positivist period and a major representative of 19th century realism in Polish literature Boleslaw Prus (born Aleksander Glowacki), was the one of the most loved writers by his own countrymen. His books were written partly with a moral object, as each was dealing with a social evil. But while he exposes the evil, his warm heart and strong sense of justice--combined with a sense of humour--make him fair and even generous to all.

He was one of the most important figures in Polish letters, and one of the most distinctive voices in world literature.

An indelible mark was left on Prus by his experiences as a 15-year old soldier in Poland's 1863 Uprising, in which he suffered severe battle contusions and imprisonment by Tsarist Russian authorities. At age 25 he settled into a distinguished 40-year career in journalism. As a sideline, he began writing short stories.

He is the author of four major novels on great questions of the day: The Outpost (1886) on the Polish peasant; The Doll (1889) on the aristocracy, townspeople, and on idealists struggling to bring about social reforms; The New Woman (1893) on feminist concerns; and his only historical novel, Pharaoh (1895), on mechanisms of political power.
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