came to the barn
early the next morning and called her husband. 'Are you going to be
to go to the manor-house.'
sent for me?'
they send for
you? You have got to go to them and see about the field.'
groaned, but came
out on to the threshing-floor. His face was bloated, he looked ashamed
of himself, and his hair was full of straw.
at him,' jeered
his wife: 'his sukmana is dirty and wet, he hasn't taken off his boots
all night, and he scowls like a brigand. You are more fit for a
in a flaxfield than for talking to the squire. Change your clothes and
returned to the cowshed,
and a weight fell off Slimak's mind that the matter had ended there. He
had expected to be jeered at till the afternoon. He came out into the
and looked round. The sun was high, the ground had dried after the
the wind from the ravines brought the song of birds and a damp,
smell; the fields had become green during the night. The sky looked as
if it had been freshened up, and the cottage seemed whiter.
day,' he murmured,
gaining courage, and went indoors to dress. He pulled the straw out of
his hair and put on a clean shirt and new boots. He thought they did
look polished enough, so he took a piece of tallow and rubbed it well
over his hair, then over his boots. Then he stood in front of the glass
and smiled contentedly at the brilliance he rejected from head to foot.
came in at that
moment and looked disdainfully at him.
you been doing
to your head? You stink of tallow miles off. You'd better comb your
the justice of the remark, took a thick comb from behind the
and smoothed his hair till it looked like polished glass, then he
the soap to his neck so energetically that his fingers left large, dark
asked in a more cheerful voice, for the cold water had added to his
him, but he wouldn't
take the thirty-three roubles; he said that Jesus Christ had lived in
world for thirty-three years, so it would not be right for him to take
as much as that for the cow.'
proper,' Slimak agreed,
wishing to impress her with his theological knowledge, but she turned
the stove and took off a pot of hot barley soup. Offering it to him
an air of indifference: 'Don't talk so much,' she said. 'Put something
hot inside you and go to the manor-house. But just try and bargain as
did with the Soltys and I shall have something to say to you.'
humbly, eating his
soup, and his wife took some money from the chest. 'Take these ten
she said, 'give them to the squire himself and promise to bring the
to-morrow. But mind what he asks for the field, and kiss his hands, and
embrace his and the lady's feet so that he may let you off at least
roubles. Will you remember?'
shouldn't I remember?'
his wife's admonitions, for he suddenly stopped eating and tapped the
rhythmically with the spoon.
then, don't sit there
and think, but put on your sukmana and go. And take the boys with you.'
They are to support
you when you ask the squire, and Jendrek will tell me how you have
Now do you know what for?'
a pest!' growled
Slimak, when she had unfolded her carefully laid plans. 'Curse her, how
she lords it over me! You can see that her father was a bailiff.'
struggled into his sukmana,
which was brand new and beautifully embroidered at the collar and
with coloured thread; put on a broad leather belt, tied the ten roubles
up in a rag and slipped them into his sukmana. The children had long
ready, and at last they started.
They had no
sooner gone than
loneliness began to fill Slimakowa's heart. She went outside the gate
watched them; her husband, with his hands in his pockets, was strolling
along the road, Jendrek on his right and Stasiek on his left. Presently
Jendrek boxed Stasiek's ears and as a result he was walking on the left
and Stasiek on the right. Then Slimak boxed both their ears, after
they were both walking on the left, Jendrek in the ditch, so that he
them, they always
find some nice amusement for themselves,' she whispered, smiling, and
back to put on the dinner.
settled the misunderstanding
between his sons, Slimak sang softly to himself:
love is no courtier,
riding a pony
on his way to the squire.'
Then in a
shall I do?...'
and felt that
no song could adequately express his anxiety. Would the squire let him
have the field? They were just passing it; he was almost afraid to look
at it, so beautiful and unattainable did it seem. All the fines he had
had to pay for his cattle, all the squire's threats and admonitions
into his mind. It struck him that if the field lay farther off and
sand instead of good grass, he would have a better chance.
don't care!' he cried,
throwing up his head with an air of indifference; 'they've often asked
me to take it.'
so, but it had been
at times when he had not wanted it; now that he did, they would bargain
hard, or not let him have it at all. Who could tell why that should be
so? It was a law of nature that landlords and peasants were always at
remembered how often he
had charged too much for work done, or how often the gospodarze had
to come to terms with the squire about rights of grazing or
in the forests, and he felt contrite. Good Lord! how beautifully the
had spoken to them: 'Let us help each other and live peaceably like
had answered: 'What's
the good of being neighbours? A nobleman is a nobleman and a peasant is
a peasant. We should prefer peasants for neighbours and you would
noblemen.' Then the squire had cited: 'Remember, the runaway goat came
back to the cart and said, "Put me in." But I shall say you nay.' And
in the name of them all, had answered: 'The goat will come, your
when you throw your forests open.'
had said nothing,
but his trembling moustaches had warned them that he would not forget
told Gryb not to
talk with a long tongue,' Slimak sighed. 'Now it is I who will have to
suffer for his impudence.'
A new idea
came into his
head. Why should he not pay for the field in work instead of cash? The
Squire might accept it, for he wasn't half a bad gentleman. It was
the other gospodarze looked down upon him, because he was the only one
who hired himself out for work; but whatever happened, the squire would
always be the squire, and they the gospodarze. He hummed again, but
his breath, so that the boys should not hear him:
in the forest,
I am the dullest.'
turned upon Stasiek,
and wanted to know why he was dragging along as if he were being taken
to jail, and didn't talk.
wondering why we
are going to the manor?'
want to go?'
'No; I am
there to be afraid
of?' snapped Slimak, but he himself was shivering.
my boy,' he continued,
more kindly, 'we have bought the new cow from the Soltys and we shall
more hay, so I am going to ask the squire to let me rent the field.'
see....But, daddy, I am
always wondering what the grass thinks when the cows chew it up.'
should it think? It
doesn't think at all.'
daddy, why shouldn't
it think? When people are standing round the church in a crowd, they
like grass from a distance, all red and yellow, like flowers in a
If some horrible cow came and lapped them up with her tongue, wouldn't
they be able to think?'
would scream, but
the grass says nothing.'
say something! A
dry stick cracks when you tread on it, and a fresh branch cries and
to the tree when you tear it off, and the grass squeaks and holds on
are always saying
queer things,' interrupted his father; 'and you, Jendrek, are you glad
that we are going to the manor-house?'
'Is it I
who is going or
you?' said Jendrek, shrugging his shoulders. 'I shouldn't go.'
would you do?'
take the hay and
stack it in the yard; then let them come!'
dare to cut the
'How is it
his? Has he sown
the grass? or is the field near his house?'
see, silly, that
the meadow is his just as well as his other fields?'
his, so long as
no one takes them. Our land and our house were his once, now they are
Why should he be better off than we are? He does nothing, yet he has
land for a hundred peasants.'
'He has it
because he has
it, because he is a gentleman.'
you wore a coat,
and your trousers outside your boots, you would be a gentleman; but for
all that you wouldn't have the land.'
stupid,' said Slimak,
'I know I
am stupid, that
is because I can't read or write, but Jasiek Gryb can, and therefore he
is clever, and he says there must be equality, and there will be when
peasants have taken the land from the nobility.'
off taking money from his father's chest
disposes of other
people's property! He might give mine to
take the squire's
for himself, but he would never give his
own away. Let
it be as God
give the land to
ordered that there
should not be equality in the world. A pine is tall, a hazel is low,
grass is still lower. Look at sensible dogs. When a pail of dish-water
is brought out to them, the strongest drinks first, and the others
by and lick their lips, although they know that he will take the best
then they all take their turn. If they start quarrelling, they upset
pail and the strong get the better of the weak.
were to say to
each other: Disgorge what you have swallowed, the strong would drive
the weak and leave them to starve.'
'But if God
has given the
land to the squire, how can they begin to distribute it to the people
distribute it so that
every one should get what is right for him, not that he should take
amazing views added
a new worry to Slimak's mind.
rascal! listening to
people of that sort! he'll never make a peasant; it's a mercy he hasn't
nearing the drive
to the manor-house, and Slimak was walking more and more slowly;
looked more and more frightened, Jendrek alone kept his saucy air.
of old lime-trees the roof and chimneys of the manor became visible.
two shots rang out.
Jendrek excitedly, and ran forward. Stasiek caught hold of his father's
pocket. Slimak called Jendrek, who returned sulkily. They were now on
terrace, where the manor-fields stretched on either side. Lower down
the village, still lower the field by the river, in front of them was
manor, with the outbuildings, enclosed by a railing.
that's the manor-house,'
said Slimak to Stasiek. 'Isn't it beautiful?'
one with pillars
shot rang out, and
they saw a man in fanciful sportsman's dress.
horseman of yesterday,'
freak!' said Slimak,
scrutinizing him with his head on one side; 'he'll bring me bad luck
'He has a
cried Jendrek; 'but what is he shooting? There's nothing but sparrows
is shooting at
us?' suggested Stasiek timidly.
he be shooting
at us?' his father reassured him; 'shooting at people isn't allowed.
true there is no knowing what a lunatic might do.'
loading his gun; the tattered remains of some sparrows hung from his
be praised,' said
Slimak, taking off his cap.
'How do you
replied the sportsman, touching his jockey cap.
lovely gun!' sighed
like it? Eh, wasn't
it you who picked up my cap the other day? I am in your debt; here you
are.' He handed Jendrek a twenty-kopek piece. 'Is that your father?
if you want to be friends with me, do not bow so low, and cover your
It is time that these survivals of servitude should be forgotten; they
can only do us both harm. Cover yourself, I beg you.'
tried to do as he
was told, but his hand refused obedience.
awkward, sir, standing
before you with my cap on,' he said.
differences!' exclaimed the young man, snatching the cap from Slimak's
hands and putting it on his head.
all!' thought the
peasant, unable to follow the democrat's intentions.
you going to the
manor for?' asked the latter. 'Have you come on business with my
'We want to
beg a favour
of the squire'--Slimak refrained with difficulty from bowing
he should let us rent the field close to my property.'
bought a new cow.'
cattle have you?'
five tails in my gospodarstwo, two horses and three cows, not counting
you much land?'
'I wish to
God I had, but
I have only ten acres, and those are growing more sterile every year.'
because you don't
understand agriculture. Ten acres is a large property; in other
several families live comfortably on that; here it is not enough for
But what can you expect if you sow nothing but rye?'
should I sow,
sir? Wheat doesn't do very well.'
my friend, that
does the trick! The market gardeners near Warsaw pay thirty or forty
an acre rent and do excellently well.'
his head. He
was much perturbed, for he had arrived at the conclusion that the
would not let him have the field, because he had so much land already,
or that he would ask him thirty or forty roubles' rent. What other
could the young gentleman possibly have for saying, such strange things?
entrance to the garden.
'I see my
sister is in the
garden; my brother-in-law is sure to be about too. I will go and tell
of your business.'
bowed low, but inwardly
he thought: 'May the pestilence take him! He is impertinent to my wife,
stirs up the boy, and puts my cap on my head; but he wants to squeeze
out of me, all the same. I knew he would bring me bad luck.'
an American organ
which the squire was playing came from the house.
daddy, they are playing!'
cried Stasiek in great excitement; he was flushed, and trembled with
even Jendrek was affected. Slimak took off his cap and said a prayer
deliverance from the evil spell of the young gentleman.
organ stopped, they
watched this same young gentleman talking to his sister in the garden.
the lady, dad,'
said Jendrek; 'she is just like a horsefly, yellow with black spots,
thin in the waist and fat at the end.'
democrat was putting
Slimak's case before his sister, and complained of the signs of
with which he met at every turn. He said they spoilt his temper.
can I do?' said
'Go up to
them and give them
that!' she said.
'I arranged a treat for our farm-labourers' children to encourage them,
and next day they plundered my peach trees. Go to them? I've done that
too. I once went into a cottage where a child was ill, and my clothes
so strongly that I had to give them to my maid. No, thank you!'
same, I beg you
to do something for these people.'
conversation had been
in French while they were approaching the railings.
Slimak.' The lady
raised her glasses. 'Well, my good man, my brother wants me to do
for you. Have you got a daughter?'
my lady,' said
Slimak, kissing the hem of her dress.
pity, I might have
taught her to do beadwork. Perhaps I could teach the boys to read?'
wanted at home,
my lady; the elder one is useful already, and the younger one looks
the pigs in the fields.'
something for them yourself,'
she said to her brother in French.
they plotting against
me?' thought Slimak.
now came out and
joined the group. Slimak began bowing again, Stasiek's eyes filled with
tears, even Jendrek lost his self-assurance. The conversation reverted
into French, and the democrat warmly supported Slimak's cause.
I'll let him
have the field,' said the squire; 'then there will be an end to the
besides, he is the most honest man in the village.'
Slimak's suspense had
become so acute that he had thoughts of returning home without having
the business, the squire said:
want me to let you
have the field by the river?'
will be so kind,
'And if you
will kindly take
off three roubles,'
added quickly. Slimak's
blood ran cold; the squire exchanged glances with his wife.
that mean?' he
asked. 'From what am I to take off three roubles?'
reached for his belt, but he recollected himself; he made up his mind
despair to tell the truth.
please, sir, don't
take any notice of that puppy; my wife has been at me for not
well, and she told me to get you to take three roubles off the rent,
now this young scoundrel puts me to
told me to look after
tongue-tied, and the party on the other side of the railing were
said the squire in
French, 'that is the peasant all over. He won't allow you to speak a
to his wife, but he can't do anything without her, and doesn't
any business whatsoever without her explanations.'
laughed his wife,
'now, if you did as I tell you, we should have left this dull place
ago and gone to Warsaw.'
the peasant out
to be an idiot,' remonstrated his brother-in-law.
for me to do that;
he _is_ an idiot. Our peasants are all muscle and stomach; they leave
and energy to their wives. Slimak is one of the most intelligent, yet I
will bet you anything that I can immediately give you a proof of his
a donkey. Josef,' he said, turning to Slimak, 'your wife told you to
a good bargain?'
sir, what is
true is true.'
know what Lukasiak
pays me yearly?'
ought to pay twenty
roubles for the two acres.'
will be lenient,
sir,' began Slimak.
let me off three
roubles,' completed the squire. Slimak looked confused.
I will let you
off three roubles; you shall pay me seventeen roubles yearly. Are you
bowed to the ground
and thought: 'What is he up to? He is not bargaining!'
the squire, 'I will make you another proposal. Do you know what Gryb
me for the two acres he bought?'
and he paid for
the surveyor and the lawyer. I will sell you those two acres for sixty
roubles and let you off all expenses, so you would gain a clear twenty
roubles against Gryb's bargain, But I make one condition, you must
at once and without consulting your wife; to-morrow my conditions
be the same.'
eyes blazed; he
fancied he saw quite clearly now that there was a conspiracy against
a handsome thing
to offer, sir,' he said, with a forced smile; 'you yourself consult
the lady and the young gentleman.' 'There you are! Isn't he a finished
Slimak on the shoulder. 'Agree to it, my friend; you'll have the best
the bargain. Of course he agrees,' he said, turning to the squire.
Josef, will you buy
it? Do you agree to my conditions?'
such a fool,' thought
Slimak, and aloud: 'It wouldn't be fair to buy it without my wife.'
I'll let it to
you. Give me your earnest-money and come for the receipt to-morrow.
you have the peasant, my democrat!'
the ten roubles
and glared at the retreating party.
like to cheat
a peasant, but he has got too much sense! It's true, then, what
said about the land-distribution. Sixty roubles for a field worth
same he could not
quite get rid of the thought that it might have been a straightforward
offer. He felt hot all over and wanted to shout or run after the
At that moment the young man hastily turned back.
field,' he said,
quite out of breath; 'my brother-in-law would still consent if you
instant Slimak's distrust
it wouldn't be
murmured the democrat,
and turned his back. The bargain had disappeared.
home, boys,' and
under his breath: 'Damn the aristocracy!' When they were nearing their
home, the boys ran on ahead, for they were hungry.
this Jendrek tells
me? They wanted to sell you the land for sixty roubles?'
so,' he replied,
rather frightened; 'they are afraid of the new land-distributions. They
are clever too! They knew all about my business beforehand, and the
had set his brother-in-law on to me.'
fellow who spoke
to me by the river?'
fool. He gave
Jendrek twenty kopeks and put my cap on my head, and he told me ten
was a fortune.'
has a thousand and says he hasn't enough! You did quite right not to
the field; there is something shady about that business.'
did not completely reassure Slimak; he was wretchedly in doubt. His
gave him no pleasure, and he strolled about the house without knowing
to do. When his irritation had reached its climax, a happy thought
said, unbuckling his belt.
the boy, although he had been prepared for the last two hours.
escape it this
time; lie down on the bench. You've been laughing at the young
and even making fun of the squire.'
his father's knees, Magda ran out of the room, Jendrek howled.
you, lie down! I'll
teach you to run about with that scoundrel of a Jasiek!'
tapped at the window. 'Josef, come quick, something has happened to the
new cow, she's staggering.'
go of Jendrek
and ran to the cowshed. The three cows were standing quietly chewing
passed off,' said
the woman; 'but I tell you a minute ago she was staggering worse than
the cow carefully,
but could find nothing wrong with her.
away, his father's temper had cooled, and the matter ended as usual on