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The Outpost 

by Boleslaw Prus (Aleksander Glowacki)
CHAPTER III

Returning to the courtyard, Slimak let Maciek take the horses. He looked at the cow, which was tied to the fence. Despite the falling darkness he could see that she was a beautiful creature; she was white with black patches, had a small head, short horns and a large udder. He examined her and admitted that neither of his cows were as fine as this one.

He thought of leading her round the yard, but he suddenly felt as if he could not move another step, his arms seemed to be dropping from their joints and his legs were sinking. Until sunset a man can go on harrowing, but after sunset it is no good trying to do anything more. So he patted the cow instead of leading her about. She seemed to understand the situation, for she turned her head towards him and touched his hand with her wet mouth. Slimak was so overcome with emotion that he very nearly kissed her, as if she were a human being.

'I must buy her,' he muttered, forgetting even his tiredness.

The gospodyni stood in the door with a pail of dishwater for the cattle.

'Maciek,' she called, 'when the cow has had a drink, lead her to the cowshed. The Soltys will stay the night; the cow can't be left out of doors.'

'Well, what next?' asked Slimak.

'What has to be, has to be,' she replied. 'He wants the thirty-five roubles and the silver rouble for the halter--but,' she continued after a pause, 'truth is truth, she is worth it. I milked her, and though she had been on the road, she gave more milk than Lysa.'

'Have you asked him whether he won't come down a bit?'

The peasant again felt the weariness in all his limbs. Good God! how many hours of sleep would have to be sacrificed, before he could make another thirty-five roubles!

'Not likely! It's something that he will sell her to us at all; he keeps on saying he promised her to Gryb.'

Slimak scratched his head.

'Come, Josef, be friendly and drink vodka with him, then perhaps the Lord Jesus will give him reflection. But keep looking at me, and don't talk too much; you will see, it will turn out all right.'

Maciek led the cow to the shed; she looked about and whisked her tail so heartily that Slimak could not take his eyes off her.

'It's God's will,' he murmured. 'I'll bargain for her.'

He crossed himself at the door, but his heart was trembling in anticipation of all the difficulties.

His guest was sitting by the fire and admonishing Magda in fatherly fashion to be faithful and obedient to her master and mistress.

'If they order you into the water--jump into the water; if they order you into the fire--go into the fire; and if the mistress gives you a good hiding, kiss her hand and thank her, for I tell you: sacred is the hand that strikes....'

As he said this the red light of the fire fell upon him; he had raised his hand and looked like a preacher.

Magda fancied that the trembling shadow on the wall was repeating: 'Sacred is the hand that strikes!'

She wept copiously; she felt she was listening to a beautiful sermon, but at the same time blue stripes seemed to be swelling on her back at his words. Yet she listened without fear or regret, only with dim gratitude, mingled with recollections of her childhood.

The door opened and Slimak said:

'The Lord be praised.'

'In all eternity,' answered Grochowski. When he stood up, his head nearly touched the ceiling.

'May God repay you, Soltys, for coming to us,' said Slimak, shaking his hand.

'May God repay you for your kindness in receiving me.'

'And say at once, should you be uncomfortable.'

'Eh! I'm not half so comfortable at home, and it's not only to me but also to the cow that you are giving hospitality.'

'Praise God that you are satisfied.'

'I am doubly satisfied, because I see how well you are treating Magda. Magda! fall at your master's feet at once, for your father could not treat you better. And you, neighbour, don't spare the strap.'

'She's not a bad girl,' said Slimak.

Sobbing heartily the girl fell first at her uncle's feet, then at the gospodarz's, and then escaped into the passage. She hugged herself and still emitted great sobs; but her eyes were dry. She began calling softly in a mournful voice: 'Pig! pig! pig!' But the pigs had turned in for the night. Instead Jendrek and Stasiek with the dog Burek emerged from the twilight. Jendrek wanted to push her over, but she gave him a punch in the eye. The boys seized her by the arms, Burek followed, and shrieking and barking and inextricably entwined so that one could not tell which was child and which was dog, all four melted into the mists that were hanging over the meadows.

Sitting by the stove, the two gospodarze were talking.

'How is it you are getting rid of the cow?'

'You see, it's like this. That cow is not mine, it belongs to Magda, but my wife says she doesn't care about looking after somebody else's cow, and the shed is too small for ours as it is. I don't pay much attention to her usually, but it happens that there is a bit of land to be sold adjoining Magda's. Komara, to whom it belonged, has drunk himself to death. So I am thinking: I will sell the cow and buy the girl another acre--land is land.'

'That's true!' sighed Slimak.

'And as there will be new servituty, the girl will get even more.'

'How is that?' Slimak became interested.

'They will give you twice as much as you possess; I possess twenty-five acres, so I shall have fifty. How many have you got?'

'Ten.'

'Then you will have twenty, and Magda will get another two and a half with her own.'

'Is it certain about the servituty?'

'Who can tell? some say it is, others laugh about it. But I am thinking I will buy this land while there is the chance, especially as my wife does not wish it.'

'Then what is the good of buying the land if you will shortly get it for nothing?'

'The truth is, as it's not my money I don't care how I spend it. If I were you I shouldn't be in a hurry to rent from the manor either; there is no harm in waiting. The wise man is never in a hurry.'

'No, the wise man goes slowly,' Slimak deliberated.

The gospodyni appeared at that moment with Maciek. They went into the alcove, drew two chairs and the cherrywood table into the middle of it, covered it with a cloth and placed a petroleum lamp without a chimney on it.

'Come, Soltys,' called the gospodyni,' you will have supper more comfortably in here.'

Maciek, with a broad smile, retired awkwardly behind the stove as the two gospodarze went into the alcove.

'What a beautiful room,' said Grochowski, looking round, 'plenty of holy pictures on the walls, a painted bed, a wooden floor and flowers in the windows. That must be your doing, gospodyni?'

'Why, yes,' said the woman, pleased, 'he is always at the manor or in the town and doesn't care about his home; it was all I could do to make him lay the floor. Be so kind as to sit near the stove, neighbour, I'll get supper.'

She poured out a large bowl of peeled barley soup and put it on the table, and a small one for Maciek.

'Eat in God's name, and if you want anything, say so.'

'But are not you going to sit down?'

'I always eat last with the children. Maciek, you may take your bowl.'

Maciek, grinning, took his portion and sat down on a bench opposite the alcove, so that he could see the Soltys and listen to human intercourse, for which he was longing. He looked contentedly from behind his steaming bowl at the table; the smoking lamp seemed to him the most brilliant illumination, and the wooden chairs the height of comfort. The sight of the Soltys, who was lolling back, filled him with reverence. Was it not he who had driven him to the recruiting-office when it was the time for the drawing of lots? Who had ordered him to be taken to the hospital and told him he would come out completely cured? Who collected the taxes and carried the largest banner at the processions and intoned 'Let us praise the Holy Virgin'? And now he, Maciek Owczarz, was sitting under one roof with this same Grochowski.

How comfortable he made himself! Maciek tried to lean back in the same fashion, but the scandalized wall pushed him forward, reminding him that he was not the Soltys. So although his back ached, he bent still lower and hid his feet in their torn boots under the bench. Why should he be comfortable? It was enough if the master and the Soltys were. He ate his soup and listened with both ears.

'What makes you take the cow to Gryb?' asked the gospodyni.

'Because he wants to buy her.'

'We might buy her ourselves.'

'Yes, that might be so,' put in Slimak; 'the girl is here, the cow should be here too.'

'That's right, isn't it, Maciek?' asked the woman.

'Oho, ho!' laughed Maciek, till the soup ran out of his spoon.

'What's true is true,' said Grochowski; 'even Gryb ought to understand that the cow ought to be where the girl is.'

'Then sell her to us,' Slimak said quickly.

Grochowski dropped his spoon on the table and his head on his chest. He reflected for a while, then he said in a tone of resignation:

'There's no help for it; as you are quite, decided I must sell you the cow.'

'But you'll take off something for us, won't you?' hastily added the
woman in an ingratiating tone.

The Soltys reflected once more.

'You see, it's like this; if it were my cow I would come down. But she belongs to a poor orphan. How could I harm her? Give me thirty-five paper roubles and a silver rouble and the cow will be yours.'

'That's too much,' sighed Slimak.

'But she is worth it!' said the Soltys.

'Still, money sits in the chest and doesn't eat.'

'Neither will it give milk.'

'I should have to rent the field.'

'That will be cheaper than buying fodder.'

A long silence ensued, then Slimak said:

'Well, neighbour, say your last word.'

'I tell you, thirty-five paper roubles and a silver rouble. Gryb will be angry, but I'll do this for you.'

The gospodyni now cleared the bowl off the table and returned with a bottle of vodka, two glasses, and a smoked sausage on a plate.

'To your health, neighbour,' said Slimak, pouring out the vodka.

'Drink in God's name!'

They emptied the glasses and began to chew the dry sausage in silence. Maciek was so affected by the sight of the vodka that he folded his hands on his stomach. It struck him that those two must be feeling very happy, so he felt happy too.

'I really don't know whether to buy the cow or not,' said Slimak; 'your price has taken the wish from me.'

Grochowski moved uneasily on his chair.

'My dear friend,' he said, 'what am I to do? this is the orphan's affair. I have got to buy her land, if for no other reason but because it annoys my wife.'

'You won't give thirty-five roubles for an acre.'

'Land is getting dearer, because the Germans want to buy it.'

'The Germans?'

'Those who bought Wolka. They want other Germans to settle near here.'

'There were two Germans near my field asking me a lot of questions. I didn't know what they wanted.'

'There you are! they creep in. Directly one has settled, others come like ants after honey, and then the land gets dearer.'

'Do they know anything about peasants' work?'

'Rather! They make more profits than we who are born here. The Germans are clever; they have a lot of cattle, sow clover and carry on a trade in the winter. We can't compete with them.'

'I wonder what their religion is like? They talk to each other like Jews.'

'Their religion is better than the Jews',' the Soltys said, after reflecting; 'but what is not Catholic is nothing. They have churches with benches and an organ; but their priests are married and go about in overcoats, and where the blessed Host ought to be on the altar they have a crucifix, like ours in the porch.'

'That's not as good as our religion.'

'Why!' said Grochowski, 'they don't even pray to the Blessed Mother.'

The gospodyni crossed herself.

'It's odd that the Merciful God should bless such people with prosperity. Drink, neighbour!'

'To your health! Why should God not bless them, when they have a lot of cattle? That's at the bottom of all prosperity.'

Slimak became pensive and suddenly struck his fist on the table.

'Neighbour,' he cried, raising his voice, 'sell me the cow!'

'I will sell her to you,' cried Grochowski, also striking the table.

'I'll give you...thirty-one roubles...as I love you.' Grochowski embraced him.

'Brother...give me...thirty...and four paper roubles and a silver rouble for the halter.'

The tired children cautiously stole into the room; the gospodyni poured out some soup for them and told them to sit in the corner and be quiet. And quiet they were, except at one moment when Stasiek fell off the bench and his mother slapped Jendrek for it. Maciek dozed, dreaming that he was drinking vodka. He felt the liquor going to his head and fancied himself sitting by the Soltys and embracing him. The fumes of the vodka and the lamp were filling the room. Slimak and Grochowski
moved closer together.

'Neighbour...Soltys,' said Slimak, striking the table again. 'I'll give you whatever you wish, your word is worth more than money to me, for you are the cleverest man in the parish. The Wojt is a pig...you are more to me than the Wojt or even the Government Inspector, for you are cleverer than they are...devil take me!'

They fell on each other's shoulders and Grochowski wept.

'Josef, brother,...don't call me Soltys but brother...for we are brothers!'

'Wojciek...Soltys...say how much you want for the cow. I'll give it you, I'll rip myself open to give it you...thirty-five paper roubles and a silver rouble.'

'Oh dear, oh dear!' wailed the gospodyni. 'Weren't you letting the cow go for thirty-three roubles just now, Soltys?'

Grochowski raised his tearful eyes first to her, then to Slimak.

'Was I?... Josef...brother...I'll give you the cow for thirty-three roubles. Take her! let the orphan starve, so long as you, my brother, get a prime cow.'

Slimate beat a tattoo on the table.

'Am I to cheat the orphan? I won't; I'll give you thirty-five....'

'What are you doing, you fool?' his wife interrupted him.

'Yes, don't be foolish,' Grochowski supported her. 'You have entertained me so finely that I'll give you the cow for thirty-three roubles. Amen! that's my last word.'

'I won't!' shouted Slimak. 'Am I a Jew that I should be paid for hospitality?'

'Josef!' his wife said warningly.

'Go away, woman!' he cried, getting up with difficulty; 'I'll teach you to mix yourself up in my affairs.'

He suddenly fell into the embrace of the weeping Grochowski.

'Thirty-five....'

'Thirty-three...' sobbed the Soltys; 'may I not burn in hell!'

'Josef,' his wife said, 'you must respect your guest; he is older than you, and he is Soltys. Maciek, help me to get them into the barn.'

'I'll go by myself,' roared Slimak.

'Thirty-three roubles...' groaned Grochowski, 'chop me to bits, but I won't take a grosz more.... I am a Judas.... I wanted to cheat you. I said I was taking the cow to Gryb...but I was bringing her to you...for you are my brother....'

They linked arms and made for the window. Maciek opened the door into the passage, and after several false starts they reached the courtyard. The gospodyni took a lantern, rug and pillow, and followed them. When she reached the yard she saw Grochowski kneeling and rubbing his eyes with his sukmana and Slimak lying on the manure heap. Maciek was standing over them.

'We must do something with them,' he said to the gospodyni; 'they've drunk a whole bottle of vodka.'

'Get up, you drunkard,' she cried, 'or I'll pour water over your head.'

'I'll pour it over you, I'll give you a whipping presently!' her husband shouted back at her.

Grochowski fell on his neck.

'Don't make a hell of your house, brother, or grief will come to us both.'

Maciek could not wonder enough at the changes wrought in men by vodka. Here was the Soltys, known in the whole parish as a hard man, crying like a child, and Slimak shouting like the bailiff and disobeying his wife.

'Come to the barn, Soltys,' said Slimakowa, taking him by one arm while Maciek took the other. He followed like a lamb, but while she was preparing his bed on the straw, he fell upon the threshing-floor and could not be moved by any manner of means.

'Go to bed, Maciek,' said the gospodyni; 'let that drunkard lie on the manure-heap, because he has been so disagreeable.'

Maciek obeyed and went to the stable. When all was quiet, he began for his amusement to pretend that he was drunk, and acted the part of Slimak or the Soltys in turns. He talked in a tearful voice like Grochowski: 'Don't make a hell of your house, brother...' and in order to make it more real he tried to make himself cry. At first he did not succeed, but when he remembered his foot, and that he was the most miserable creature, and the gospodyni hadn't even given him a glass of vodka, the tears ran freely from his eyes, until he too went to sleep.

About midnight Slimak awoke, cold and wet, for it had begun to rain. Gradually his aching head remembered the Soltys, the cow, the barley soup and the large bottle of vodka. What had become of the vodka? He was not quite certain on this point, but he was quite sure that the soup had disagreed with him.

'I always say you should not eat hot barley soup at night,' he groaned.

He was no longer in doubt whether or no he was lying on the manure-heap. Slowly he walked up to the cottage and hesitated on the doorstep; but the rain began to fall more heavily. He stood still in the passage and listened to Magda's snoring; then he cautiously opened the door of the room.

Stasiek lay on the bench under the window, breathing deeply. There was no sound from the alcove, and he realized that his wife was not asleep.

'Jagna, make room...' he tried to steady his voice, but he was seized with fear.

There was no answer.

'Come...move up....'

'Be off with you, you tippler, and don't come near me.'

'Where am I to go?'

'To the manure-heap or the pigsty, that's your proper place. You threatened me with the whip! I'll take it out of you!'

'What's the use of talking like that, when nothing is wrong?' said Slimak, holding his aching head.

'Nothing wrong? You insisted on paying thirty-five paper roubles and a silver rouble when Grochowski was letting the cow go for thirty-three roubles. Nothing wrong, indeed! do three roubles mean nothing to you?'

Slimak crept to the bench where Stasiek lay and touched his feet.

'Is that you, daddy?' the boy asked, waking up.

'Yes, it's I.'

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm just sitting down; something is worrying me inside.'

The boy put his arms round his neck.

'I'm so glad you have come,' he said; 'those two Germans keep coming after me.'

'What Germans?'

'Those two by our field, the old one and the man with the beard. They don't say what they want, but they are walking on me.'

'Go to sleep, child; there are no Germans here.'

Stasiek pressed closer to him and began to chatter again:

'Isn't it true, daddy, that the water can see?'

'What should it see?'

'Everything--everything--the sky, the hills; it sees us when we follow the harrows.'

'Go to sleep. Don't talk nonsense.'

'It does, it does, daddy, I've watched it myself,' he whispered, going to sleep.

The room was too hot for Slimak; he dragged himself up and staggered to the barn, where he fell into a bundle of straw.

'But what I gave for the cow I gave for her,' he muttered in the direction of the sleeping Grochowski.

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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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