April. After their
dinner Slimak's household dispersed to their different occupations. The
gospodyni, tying a red handkerchief round her head and a white linen
round her neck, ran down to the river. Stasiek followed her, looking at
the clouds and observing to himself that they were different every day.
Magda busied herself washing up the dinner things, singing 'Oh, da,
louder and louder in proportion as the mistress went farther away.
began pushing Magda about, pulling the dog's tail and whistling
finally he ran out with a spade into the orchard. Slimak sat by the
He was a man of medium height with a broad chest and powerful
He had a calm face, short moustache, and thick straight hair falling
over his forehead and on to his neck. A red-glass stud set in brass
in his sacking shirt. He rested the elbow of his left arm on his right
fist and smoked a pipe, but when his eyes closed and his head fell too
far forward, he righted himself and rested his right elbow on his left
fist. He puffed out the grey smoke and dozed alternately, spitting now
then into the middle of the room or shifting his hands. When the
began to twitter like a young sparrow, he knocked the bowl a few times
against the bench, emptied the ashes, and poked his finger down.
he got up and laid the pipe on the shelf.
under his brows
at Magda and shrugged his shoulders. The liveliness of the girl who
about while she was washing her dishes, roused a contemptuous
in him. He knew well what it felt like to have no desire for skipping
and how great the weight of a man's head, hands, and feet can be when
has been hard at work.
He put on
his thick hobnailed
boots and a stiff sukmana, fastened
a hard strap round his waist, and put on his high sheepskin cap. The
in his limbs increased, and it came into his mind that it would be more
suitable to be buried in a bundle of straw after a huge bowl of peeled
barley-soup and another of cheese dumplings, than to go to work. But he
put this thought aside, and went out slowly into the yard. In his
sukmana and black cap he looked like the
stem of a
pine, burnt at
door was open, and
by sheer perversity some bundles of straw were peeping out, luring
to a doze. But he turned away his head and looked at one of the hills
he had sown oats that morning. He fancied the yellow grain in the
was looking frightened, as if trying in vain to hide from the sparrows
that were picking it up.
eat me up altogether,'
Slimak muttered. With heavy steps he approached the shed, took out the
two harrows, and led the chestnuts out of the stable; one was yawning
the other moved his lips, looking at Slimak and blinking his eyes, as
he thought: 'Would you not prefer to doze and not to drag us up the
Didn't we do enough work for you yesterday?' Slimak nodded, as if in
and drove off.
below, the thick-set
man and the horses with heads hanging down, seemed to harrow the blue
moving a few hundred paces backward and forward. As often as they
the edge of the sown field, a flight of sparrows rose up, twittering
and flew over them like a cloud, then settled at the other end,
continually in astonishment that earth should be poured on to such
fool! Silly fool!
What a silly fool!' they cried.
murmured Slimak, cracking
his whip at them, 'if I listened to you idlers, you and I would both
under the fence. The beggars are playing the deuce here!'
Slimak got little
encouragement in his labour. Not only that the sparrows noisily
his work, and the chestnuts scornfully whisked their tails under his
but the harrows also objected, and resisted at every little stone or
of earth. The tired horses continually stumbled, and when Slimak cried
'Woa, my lads!' and they went on, the harrows again resisted and pulled
them back. When the worried harrows moved on for a bit, stones got into
the horses' feet or under his own shoes, or choked up, and even broke
teeth of the harrows. Even the ungrateful earth offered resistance.
worse than a pig!'
the man said angrily. 'If I took to scratching a pig's back with a
it would lie down quietly and grunt with gratitude. But you are always
bristling, as if I did you an injury!'
took up the affronted
earth's cause, and threw a great sheaf of light across the
field, where dark and yellow patches were visible.
that black patch,'
said the sun, 'the hill was all black like that when your father sowed
wheat on it. And now look at the yellow patch where the stony ground
out from under the mould and will soon possess all your land.'
is not my fault,'
the earth; 'you yourself eat three times a day, but how often do you
me? It is much if it is once in eight years. And then you think you
me a great deal, but a dog would starve on such fare. You know that you
always grudge me the manure, shame on you!'
penitent peasant hung
sleep twice in twenty-four
hours unless your wife drives you to work, but how much rest do you
me? Once in ten years, and then your cattle trample upon me. So I am to
be content with being harrowed? Just try giving no hay or litter to
cows, only scratch them and see whether they will give you milk. They
get ill, the slaughterer will have to be sent for, and even the Jew
give you nothing for their hides.'
oh dear!' sighed
the peasant, acknowledging that the earth was right. But no one pitied
or comforted him--on the contrary! The west wind rose, and twining
among the dry stalks on the field-paths, whistled:
sharp, you'll catch
it! I will bring such a deluge of rain that the remainder of the mould
will be spurted on to the highroad or into the manor-fields. And though
you should harrow with your own teeth, you shall get less and less
every year! I will make everything sterile!'
was not threatening
in vain. In Slimak's father's time ten korzy of sheaves an acre had
harvested here. Now he had to be thankful for seven, and what was going
to happen in the future?
murmured Slimak, 'work, work, work, and from one difficulty you get
another. If only it could be otherwise, if only I could manage to have
another cow and perhaps get that little meadow....'
was pointed at the
green field by the Bialka.
sparrows only twittered
'You fool!' and the earth groaned: 'You are starving me!'
the horses and
looked around him to divert his thoughts.
the cottage and the highroad, throwing stones at the birds now and then
or singing out of tune:
grant you, God
may not find
else, my fair
should open your
answered from within:
I am poor
at the gate
turned towards the
river where his wife could be plainly seen in her white chemise and red
skirt, bending over the water and beating the linen with a stick until
the valley rang. Stasiek had already strayed farther towards the
Sometimes he knelt down on the bank and gazed into the river, supported
on his elbows. Slimak smiled.
again! What does
he see down there?' he whispered.
and struck him as an unusual child, who could see things that others
Slimak cracked his
whip and the horses went on, his thoughts were travelling in the
of the desired field.
land have I got?'
he meditated, 'ten acres; if I had only sown six or seven every year
let the rest lie fallow, how could I have fed my hungry family? And the
man, he eats as much as I do, though he is lame; and he has fifteen
wages besides. Magda eats less, but then she is lazy enough to make a
howl. I'm lucky when they want me for work at the manor, or if a Jewess
hires my horses to go for a drive, or my wife sells butter and eggs.
what is there saved when all is said and done? Perhaps fifty roubles in
the whole year. When we were first married, a hundred did not astonish
me. Manure the ground indeed! Let the squire take it into his head not
to employ me, or not to sell me fodder, what then? I should have to
the cattle to market and die of hunger.
'I am not
as well off as
Gryb or Lukasiak or Sarnecki. They live like gentlemen. One drives to
with his wife, the other wears a cap like a burgher, and the third
like to turn out the Wojt and wear
chain himself. But I have to say to myself, 'Be poor on ten acres and
and bow and scrape to the bailiff at the manor that he may remember
Well, let it be as it is! Better be master on a square yard of your own
than a beggar on another's large estate.' A cloud of dust was rising on
the high-road beyond the river. Some one was coming towards the bridge
from the manor-house, riding in a peculiar fashion. The wind blew from
behind, but the dust was so thick that sometimes it travelled
Occasionally horse and rider showed above it, but the next moment it
round and round them again, as if the road
was raising a
shaded his eyes with his hand.
odd way of riding?
who can it be? not the squire, nor his coachman. He can't be a
not even a Jew; for although a Jew would bob up and down on the horse
he does, he would never make a horse go in that reckless way. It must
some crazy stranger.'
had now come near
enough for Slimak to see what he was like. He was slim and dressed in
clothes, consisting of a light suit and velvet jockey cap. He had
on his nose and a cigar in his mouth, and he was carrying his riding
under his arm, holding the reins in both hands between the horse's neck
and his own beard, while he was shaking violently up and down; he
the saddle so tightly with his bow legs that his trousers were rucked
showing his calves.
the very least
acquainted with equestrian matters could guess that this was the first
time the rider had sat upon a horse, or that the horse had carried such
a rider. At moments they seemed to be ambling along harmoniously, until
the bobbing cavalier would lose his balance and tug at the reins; then
the horse, which had a soft mouth, would turn sideways or stand still;
the rider would then smack his lips, and if this had no effect he would
fumble for the whip. The horse, guessing what was required, would start
again, shaking him up and down until he looked like a rag doll badly
did not upset his
temper, for indeed, this was the first time the rider had realized the
dearest wish of a lifetime, and he was enjoying himself to the full.
the quiet but desperate
horse would break into a gallop. Then the rider, keeping his balance by
a miracle, would drop his bridle-fantasias and imagine himself a
captain riding to the attack at the head of his squadron, until,
to his rank of officer, he would perform some unexpected movement which
made the horse suddenly stand still again, and would cause the gallant
captain to hit his nose or his cigar against the neck of his steed.
moreover, a democratic
gentleman. When the horse took a fancy to trot towards the village
of towards the bridge, a crowd of dogs and children ran after him with
every sign of pleasure. Instead of annoyance a benevolent enjoyment
then take possession of him, for next to riding exercise he
loved the people, because they could manage horses. After a while,
his role of cavalry captain would please him more, and after further
with the reins, he succeeded in turning back towards the bridge. He
intended to ride through the length and breadth of the valley.
must be the squire's
brother-in-law, who was expected from Warsaw,' he said to himself, much
amused; 'our squire chose a gracious little wife, and was not even very
long about it; but he might have searched the length of the world for a
brother-in-law like that! A bear would be a commoner sight in these
than a man sitting a horse as he does! He looks as stupid as a
he is the squire's brother-in-law.'
Slirnak was thus taking
the measure of this friend of the people, the latter had reached the
the noise of Slimakowa's stick had attracted his attention. He turned
horse towards the bridge-rail and craned his neck over the water;
his slim figure and peaked jockey cap made him look uncommonly like a
he want now?'
thought Slimak. The horseman was evidently asking Slimakowa a question,
for she got up and raised her head. Slimak noticed for the first time
she was in the habit of tucking up her skirts very high, showing her
deuce does he want?'
he repeated, objecting to the short skirt.
cavalier rode off the
bridge with no little difficulty and reined up beside the woman. Slimak
was now watching breathlessly.
the young man stretched
out his hand towards Slimakowa's neck, but she raised her stick so
that the scared horse started away at a gallop, and the rider was left
clinging to his neck.
what are you doing?'
shouted Slimak; 'that's the squire's brother-in-law, you fool!'
shout did not reach
her, and the young man did not seem at all offended. He kissed his hand
to Slimakowa and dug his heels into the horse, which threw up its head
and started in the direction of the cottage at a sharp trot. But this
success did not attend the rider, his feet slipped out of the stirrups,
and clutching his charger by the mane, he shouted: 'Stop, you devil!'
heard the cry, clambered
on to the gate, and seeing the strange performance, burst out laughing.
The rider's jockey cap fell off. 'Pick up the cap, my boy,' the
called out in passing.
'Pick it up
Jendrek, clapping his hands to excite the horse still more.
listened to the
boy's answer speechless with astonishment, but he soon recovered
you young dog,
give the gentleman his cap when he tells you!' he cried.
took the jockey cap
between two fingers, holding it in front of him and offering it to the
rider when he had succeeded in stopping his horse.
thank you very
much,' he said, no less amused than Jendrek himself.
take off your cap
to the gentleman at once,' called Slimak.
I take off my
cap to everybody?' asked the lad saucily.
The young man seemed pleased. 'Wait, you shall have twenty kopeks for
a free citizen should never humble himself before anybody.'
no means sharing
the gentleman's democratic theories, advanced towards Jendrek with his
cap in one hand and the whip in the other.
cried the cavalier,
'I beg you not to beat the boy...do not crush his independent soul...do
not...' he would have liked to have continued, but the horse, getting
started off again in the direction of the bridge. When he saw Slimakowa
coming towards the cottage, he took off his dusty cap and called out:
not let him beat
stood rooted to the
spot, pondering upon this queer fish, who first was impertinent to his
wife, then called her 'Madam', and himself 'Citizen', and praised
for his cheek.
angrily to his
what's the world
coming to? A peasant's son won't take off his cap to a gentleman, and
gentleman praises him for it! He is the squire's brother-in-law--all
same, he must be a little wrong in his head. Soon there will be no
left, and then the peasants will have to die. Maybe when Jendrek grows
up he will look after himself; he won't be a peasant, that's clear.
Jendrek in button-boots
and a jockey cap, and he spat.
long as I am about,
you won't dress like that, young dog! All the same I shall have to warm
his latter end for him, or else he won't take his cap off to the squire
next, and then I can go begging. It's the wife's fault, she is always
him. There's nothing for it, I must give him a hiding.'
was rising on
the road, this time in the direction of the plain. Slimak saw two
one tall, the other oblong; the oblong was walking behind the tall one
and nodding its head.
sending a cow to market?'
he thought, '... well, the boy must be thrashed...if only I could have
another cow and that bit of field.'
the horses down
the hill towards the Bialka, where he caught sight of Stasiek, but
see nothing more of his farm or of the road. He was beginning to feel
tired; his feet seemed a heavy weight, but the weight of uncertainty
still greater, and he never got enough sleep. When his work was
he often had to drive off to the town.
'If I had
another cow and
that field,' he thought, 'I could sleep more.'
He had been
this while harrowing over a fresh bit for half an hour, when he heard
wife calling from the hill:
know what has happened?'
'How should I know?'
'Is it a
new tax?' anxiously
crossed his mind.
uncle has come,
you know, that Grochowski....'
wants to take the
girl back--let him.'
brought a cow and
wants to sell her to Gryb for thirty-five paper roubles and a silver
for the halter. She is a lovely cow.'
sell her; what's
that to do with me?'
that you are
going to buy her,' said the woman firmly.
dropped his hand with
the whip, bent his head forward, and looked at his wife. The proposal
wrong with you?'
me?' She raised
her voice. 'Can't I afford the cow? Gryb has bought his wife a new
and you grudge me the beasts? There are two cows in the shed; do you
trouble about them? You wouldn't have a shirt to your back if it
Lord,' groaned the
man, who was getting muddled by his wife's eloquence,' how am I to feed
her? they won't sell me fodder from the manor.'
field, and you
will have fodder.'
Jagna! what are
you saying? How am I to rent that field?'
'Go to the
manor and ask
the square; say you will pay up the rent in a year's time.'
lives, the woman
is mad! our beasts pull a little from that field now for nothing; I
be worse off, because I should have to pay both for the cow and for the
field. I won't go to the squire.'
came close up to
him and looked into his eyes. 'You won't go?'
then I will take
what fodder there is and your horses may go to the devil; but I won't
that cow go, _I_ will buy her!'
will buy her, but
you have got to do the bargaining with Grochowski; I haven't the time,
and I won't drink vodka with him.'
bargain with him!
you are mad about that cow!'
shook her fist in his face.
don't upset me when
you yourself have nothing at all to propose. Listen! you are worrying
day that you haven't enough manure; you are always telling me that you
want three beasts, and when the time comes, you won't buy them. The two
cows you have cost you nothing and bring you in produce, the third
be clear gain. Listen.... I tell you, listen! Finish your work, then
indoors and bargain for the cow; if not, I'll have nothing more to do
her back and went
The man put
his hands to
me, what a woman!'
he groaned, 'how can I, poor devil, rent that field? She persists in
the cow, and makes a fuss, and it doesn't matter what you say, you may
as well talk to a wall. Why was I ever born? everything is against me.
that the earth
and the wind were laughing at him again:
paper roubles and the silver rouble for the halter! Week after week,
after month you have been putting by your money, and to-day you'll
it all as if you were cracking a nut. You will swell Grochowski's
and your own pouch will be empty. You will wait in fear and uncertainty
at the manor and bow to the bailiff when it pleases him to give you the
receipt for your rent!...
the squire won't
even let me have the field.'
the sparrows; 'you know quite well that he'll let you have it.'
he'll let me have
it,' he retorted hotly, 'for my good money. I would rather bear a
pain than waste money on such a foolish
The sun was
low by the time
Slimak had finished his last bit of harrowing near the highroad. At the
moment when he stopped he heard the new cow low. Her voice pleased him
and softened his heart a little.
is more than
two,' he thought, 'people will respect me more. But the money... ah
it's all my own fault!'
remembered how many times
he had said that he must have another cow and that field, and had
to his wife that people had encouraged him to carve his own farm
because he was so clever at it.
for two or three years; now at last she took things into her own hands
and told him to buy the cow and rent the field at once. Merciful Jesu!
what a hard woman! What would she drive him to next? He would really
to put up sheds and make farm carts!
and even ingenious
as Slimak was, he never dared to do anything fresh unless driven to it.
He understood his farm work thoroughly, he could even mend the
at the manor-house, and he kept everything in his head, beginning with
the rotation of crops on his land. Yet his mind lacked that fine thread
which joins the project to the accomplishment. Instead of this the
of obedience was very strongly developed in him. The squire, the
the Wojt, his wife were all sent from God. He used to say:
is in the world
to carry out orders.'
The sun was
the hill crest when he drove his horses on to the highroad, and he was
pondering on how he would begin his bargaining with Grochowski when he
heard a guttural voice behind him, 'Heh! heh!'
were standing on
the highroad, one was grey-headed and clean-shaven, and wore a German
cap, the other young and tall, with a beard and a Polish cap. A
vehicle was drawn up a little farther back.
your field?' the
bearded man asked in an unpleasant voice.
Fritz,' the elder
'What am I
to stop for?'
the other said angrily.
this your land,
gospodarz?' the grey-haired man asked very politely.
it's mine, who
else should it belong to?'
came running up from
the field at that moment and looked at the strangers with a mixture of
distrust and admiration.
that your field?'
the bearded one repeated.
Fritz! Is it your
field, gospodarz?' the old man corrected him.
mine; it belongs
to the manor.'
is the hill with
if you are going
to interrupt all the time, father....'
the hill yours,
no one else's.'
are, Fritz,' the
old man said in German; 'that's the very place for Wilhelm's windmill.'
why Wilhelm has
not yet put up a windmill is not that there are no hills, but that he
a lazy fellow.'
Then those fields beyond the highroad and the ravines are not yours,
they be, when
they belong to the manor?'
the bearded one
interrupted impatiently; 'everyone knows that he sits here in the
like a hole in a bridge. The devil take the whole business.'
Fritz! Do the manor-fields
surround you on all sides, gospodarz?'
will do,' said
the younger man, drawing his father towards the carriage.
said the elder, touching his cap.
gossip you are, father!
Wilhelm will never do anything; you may find him ever so many hills.'
they want, daddy?'
Stasiek asked suddenly.
man looked round.
you asking me all
those questions for?'
pleases us to
do so,' the younger man answered, pushing his father into the carriage.
we shall meet
again!' cried the old man.
carriage rolled away.
crew they are on
the highroad to-day, it's like a fair!' said Slimak.
are those people,
They must be Germans
from Wolka, twelve miles from here.'
they ask so many
questions about your land?'
not the only ones
to do that, child. This country pleases people so much that they come
here from a long way off; they come as far as the pine hill and then
go away again. That is all I know about them.'
the horses homeward
and was already forgetting the Germans. The cow and the field were
all his thoughts. Supposing he bought her! he would be able to manure
ground better, and he might even pay an old man to come to the cottage
for the winter and teach his boys to read and write. What would the
peasants say to that? It would greatly improve his position; he would
a better place in church and at the inn, and with greater prosperity he
would be able to take more rest.
more rest! Slimak
had never known hunger or cold, he had a good home and human affection,
and he would have been quite happy if only his bones had not ached so
and if he could have lain down or sat still to his heart's content.