was the height of summer. The squire and his wife had gone away, and
villagers had forgotten all about them. New wool had begun to grow on
sun was so hot that the clouds fled from the sky into the woods, and
ground protected itself with what it could find; with dust on the
grass in the meadows, and heavy crops in the fields.
human beings had to toil their hardest at this time. At the manor they
were cutting clover and hoeing turnips; in the cottages the women were
piling up the potatoes, while the old women were gathering mallows for
cooling drinks and lime-blossoms against the ague. The priest spent all
his days tracking and taking swarms of bees; Josel, the innkeeper,
making vinegar. The woods resounded with the voices of children picking
corn was getting ripe, and Slimak began to cut the rye the day after
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was in a hurry to get the
done in two or three days, lest the corn should drop out in the great
and also because he wanted to help with the harvesting at the manor.
he, Maciek, and Jendrek worked together, alternately cutting and
the sheaves. Slimakowa and Magda helped in the early morning and in the
the first day, while the five were working together, and had reached
top of the hill, Magda noticed some men showing against the dark
of the wood, and drew Slimakowa's attention to them. They all stopped
must be peasants,' Maciek said; 'they are wearing white smocks.'
do not walk like peasants,' said Slimakowa.
they are wearing boots up to their knees,' said Slimak.
they are carrying poles,' Jendrek cried; 'and they are dragging
rope after them.'
they must be surveyors. What can they be after?' reflected Slimak.
they are taking a fresh survey; now, Josef, aren't you glad you did not
buy that land?' asked his wife. They took up their work again, but did
not get on very fast, for they could not resist throwing sidelong
at the approaching men. It was now quite plain that they were not
for they wore white coats and had black ribbons on their hats. Slimak's
attention became so absorbed that he lagged behind, in the place which
Magda usually occupied, instead of being at
head of the party. At last he cried:
stop cutting; run and find out what they are doing, and if they are
measuring for a new land-distribution.'
was off in a moment, and had soon reached the men. He forgot to come
The little party watched him talk to the men for a few moments, and
becoming busy with the poles.
say!' cried Slimakowa, 'he is quite one of the party! Just look, how he
is running along with the line, as if he had never done anything else
his life. He has never seen a book except in the Jew's shop window, and
yet he can run better than any of them. I wish I had told him to put on
his boots; they will never take him for the son of a gospodarz.'
watched Jendrek with great pride until the party disappeared behind the
line of the hill.
will come of this,' said Slimak, 'either good or bad.'
should it be bad?' asked his wife; 'they may add to our land; what do
farm labourer looked embarrassed when he was asked for his opinion, and
pondered until the perspiration flowed from his head.
should it be good?' he said at last. 'When I was working for the squire
at Krzeszowie, and he went bankrupt, just such men as these came and
the land, and soon afterwards we had to pay a new tax. No good ever
of anything new.'
returned towards sunset, quite out of breath. He called out to his
that the gentlemen wanted some milk, and had given him twenty kopeks.
them to your mother at once,' said Slimak; 'they are not for you, but
was almost in tears. 'Why should I give up my money? They say they will
pay for everything they have, and even want to buy butter and fowls.'
no, they are great gentlemen, and live in a tent and keep a cook.'
I dare say!'
had run off at top speed, and now the men appeared, perspiring,
and dusty; nevertheless, they impressed Slimak and Maciek so much with
their grand manner that they took off their caps.
of you is the gospodarz?'
long have you lived here?'
have you ever seen the river in flood?'
should think I had!'
you remember how high the water rises?'
it overflows on to that meadow deep enough to drown a man.'
you quite sure of that?'
knows that. Those gaps in the hill have been scooped out by the water.'
bridge will have to be sixty feet high.'
said the elder of the two men. 'Can you let us have some milk,
wife is getting it ready, if it pleases the gentlemen to come.'
whole party turned towards the cottage, for the drinking of milk by
distinguished gentlemen was an important event; it was decided to stop
harvesting for the day.
and the cherrywood table had been placed in front of the cottage. A rye
loaf, butter, white cheese with caraway seeds, and a bowl of buttermilk
were in readiness.
said the men, looking at each other in surprise, 'a nobleman could not
have received us better.'
ate heartily, praised everything, and finally asked Slimakowa what they
it be to the gentlemen's health!'
we cannot fleece you like this, gospodyni.'
don't take money for hospitality. Besides, you have already given my
as much as if he had been harvesting a whole day.'
whispered the younger man to the elder, 'isn't that like Polish
Slimak they said: 'After such a reception we will promise to build
station quite near to you.'
don't know what you mean?'
are going to build a railway.'
scratched his head.
makes you so doubtful?' asked the men.
thinking that this will turn out badly for us,' Slimak replied; 'I
earn anything by driving.'
men laughed. 'Don't be afraid, my friend, it will be a very good thing
for everybody, especially for you, as you will be near the station. And
first of all you will sell us your produce and drive us. Let us begin
once, what do you want for your fowls?'
leave it to you, sir.'
looked at her husband. This was double the amount they had usually
'You can have them, sir,' she cried.
scoundrel of a Jew charged us fifty,' murmured the younger man.
agreed to buy butter, cheese, crayfish, cucumber, and bread; the
man expressing surprise at the cheapness of everything, and the elder
that he always knew how to drive a good bargain. When they left, they
Slimakowa sixteen paper roubles and half a silver rouble, asking her if
she was sure that she was not cheating herself.
forbid,' she replied. 'I wish I could sell every day at that price.'
will, when we have built the railway.'
God bless you!' She made the sign of the cross over them, the farm
knelt down, and Slimak took off his cap. They all accompanied their
as far as the ravines.
they returned, Slimak set everyone to work in feverish haste.
get the butter ready; Maciek and Jendrek, go to the river for the
Magda, take three score of the finest cucumbers, and throw in an extra
ten. Jesus Mary! Have we ever done business like this! You will have to
buy yourself a new silk kerchief, and a new shirt for Jendrek.'
luck has come,' said Slimakowa, 'and I must certainly buy a silk
or else no one in the village will believe that we have made so much
don't quite like it that the new carriages will go without horses,'
Slimak; 'but that can't be helped.'
they took their produce to the engineers' encampment, they received
orders, for there were more than a dozen men, who made him their
purveyor. Slimak went round to the neighbouring cottages and bought
he needed, making a penny profit on every penny he spent, while his
praised the cheapness of the produce. After a week the party moved
off, and Slimak found himself in possession of twenty-five roubles that
seemed to have fallen from the sky, not counting what he had earned for
the hire of his horses and cart, and payment for the days of labour he
had lost. But
the money made him feel ashamed.
you know, Jagna,' he said, 'perhaps we ought to go after the gentlemen
and give them back their money.'
nonsense!' cried the woman, 'trading is always like that. What did the
Jew charge for the chickens? just double your price.'
it is the Jew's trade, and besides, he isn't a Christian.'
he makes the greater profits. Come, Josef, the gentlemen did not pay
the things only, but for the trouble you took.'
and the thought that everybody who came from Warsaw obviously had much
money to spend, reassured the peasant.
he and the rest of the family were so much occupied with their new
all the harvesting fell to Maciek's share. He had to go to the hill
early dawn till late at night, and cut, bind, and shock the sheaves
But in spite of his industry the work took longer than usual, and
hired old Sobieska to help him. She came at six o'clock, armed with a
of 'remedy' for a wound in the leg, did the work of two while she sang
songs which made even Maciek blush,
the afternoon, and then took her 'remedy'. The cure then pulled her
so much that the scythe fell from her hand.
gospodarz!' she would shout. 'You are raking in the money and buying
wife silk handkerchiefs, but the poor farm labourers have to creep on
fours. It's "Cut the corn, Sobieska and Maciek, and I will brag about
a gentleman!" You will see, he will soon call himself "Pan
He is the devil's own son, for ever and
1: The ending _ski_ denotes nobility.]
would fall into a furrow and sleep until sundown, though she was paid
a full day's work. As she had a sharp tongue, Slimak had no wish to
her. When he haggled about the money, she would kiss his hand and say:
'Why should you fall out with me, sir? Sell one chicken more and you'll
be all right.'
always pays!' thought Maciek.
the following Sunday, when everyone was ready to go to church, Maciek
down and sighed heavily.
Maciek, aren't you going to church?' asked Slimak, seeing that
can I go to church? You would be ashamed of me.'
the matter with you?'
is the matter with me, but my feet keep coming through my boots.'
your own fault, why didn't you speak before? Your wages are due, and I
will give you six roubles.'
embraced his feet....
mind you buy the boots, and don't drink away the money.'
all started; Slimak walked with his wife, Magda with the boys, and
by himself at a little distance. He dreamt that Slimak would become a
when the railway was finished, and that he, Maciek, would then wait at
table, and perhaps get married. Then he crossed himself for having such
reckless ideas. How could a poor fellow like him think of marrying? Who
would have him? Probably not even Zoska, although she was wrong in the
head and had a child.
was a memorable Sunday for Slimak and his wife. She had bought a silk
at a stall, given twenty kopeks to the beggars, and sat down in the
pew, where Grybina and Lukasiakowa had at once made room for her. As
Slimak, everyone had something to say to him. The publican reproached
for spoiling the prices for the Jews, the organist reminded him that it
would be well to pay for an extra Mass for the souls of the departed,
the policeman saluted him, and the priest urged him to keep bees: 'You
might come round to the Vicarage, now that you have money and spare
and perhaps buy a few hives. It does no harm to remember God in one's
and keep bees and give wax to the Church.'
came up with an unpleasant smile. 'Surely, Slimak, you will treat
all round to-day, since you've been so successful?'
don't treat the village when you have made a good bargain, neither
I,' Slimak snubbed him.
not surprising, since I don't make as much profit on a cow as you make
on a chicken.'
the same, you're richer than other people.'
you're right,' Wisniewski supported Slimak, asking him for the loan of
a couple of roubles at the same time. But when Slimak refused, he
of his arrogance.
did not get much comfort out of the money given him for boots. He stood
humbly at the back of the church, so that the Lord should not see his
sukmana. Then the beggars reminded him that he never gave
anything. He went to the public-house to get change.
about my money, Pan Maciek?' said the publican.
you forgotten? You owe me two roubles since Christmas'
swore at him. 'Everybody knows that one can only get a drink from you
true on the whole. But when you were tipsy at Christmas, you embraced
kissed me so many times, I couldn't help myself and gave you credit.'
you got witnesses?' Maciek said sharply. 'I tell you, old Jew, you
take me in.'
publican reflected for a moment.
have no witnesses,' he said, 'therefore I will never mention the matter
to you again. Since you swear to me here in the presence of other
that you did not kiss me and beg for credit, I make you a present of
debt, but it's a shame,' the publican added, spitting, 'that a man
for such a respectable gospodarz as Slimak, should cheat a poor Jew.
ever set foot in my inn again!'
labourer hesitated. Did he really owe that money?
he said, 'since you say I owe you the money, I will give it you. But
care God does not punish you if you are wronging me.' In his heart,
he doubted whether God would ever punish any one on account of such a
creature as he was.
was just leaving the inn sadly, when a band of Galician harvesters came
in. They sat down at the table, discussing the profits that would be
from the building of the new railway.
went up to them, and seeing that their appearance was not much less
than his own, he asked if it was true that there were railroads in
world? 'No one,' he said,'would have iron enough to cover roads, not
the government.' The labourers laughed, but one, a huge fellow with a
cap, said: 'What is there to laugh at?
course a clodhopper does not know what a railway is. Sit down, brother,
and I'll tell you all about it, but let's have a bottle of vodka.'
1: The Polish word for 'railway' is 'iron road'.]
Maciek had decided, the publican had brought the vodka.
shouldn't he have vodka?' he said, 'he is a good-natured fellow, he has
stood treat before.'
happened afterwards, Maciek did not clearly remember. He thought that
one told him how fast an engine goes, and that some one else shouted,
ought to buy boots. Later on he was seized by his arms and legs and
to the stable. One thing was certain, he returned without a penny.
would not look at him, and Slimak said: 'You are hopeless, Maciek,
never get on, for the devil always leads you into bad company.'
it happened that Maciek went without new boots, but a few weeks later
acquired a possession he had never dreamt of.
was a rainy September evening; the more the day declined, the heavier
the layers of clouds. Lower and lower they descended, torn and gloomy.
Forest, hill, and valley, even the fence dissolved gradually into the
veil. The heavy, persistent rain penetrated everything; the ground was
full of it, soaked through like kneaded dough; the road was full of it,
running with yellow streams; the yard, where it stood in large puddles,
was full of it. Roofs and walls were dripping, the animals' skins and
human souls were saturated with it.
in the gospodarstwo was thinking vaguely of supper, but no one was in
mood for it. The gospodarz yawned, the gospodyni was cross, the boys
sleepy, Magda did even less than usual. They looked at the fire, where
the potatoes were slowly boiling, at the door, to watch Maciek come in,
or at the window, where the raindrops splashed, falling from the
the lower, and the lowest clouds, from the thatch, from the fading
of the trees, and from the window frames. When all these splashes
into one, they sounded like approaching footfalls. Then the cottage
the gospodarz. But Maciek did not appear.
was groping along the passage wall.
the matter with him, has he gone blind?' impatiently exclaimed the
and opened the door.
which was not Maciek was standing in the passage, a shapeless figure,
tall, but bulky. It was wrapped in a soaking wet shawl. Slimakowa
back for a moment, but when the firelight fell into the passage, she
a human face in the opening of the shawl, copper-coloured, with a broad
nose and slanting eyes that were hardly visible under the swollen
Lord be praised,' said a hoarse voice.
Zoska?' asked the astonished gospodyni.
in quickly, you are letting all the damp into the room.'
new-comer stepped forward, but stood still, irresolutely. She held a
in her arms whose face was as white as chalk, with blue lips; she drew
out one of its arms; it looked like a stick.
are you doing out in weather like this?' asked Slimak.
going after a place.' She looked round, and decided to crouch down on
floor, near the wall. 'They say in the village that you have a lot of
now; I thought you might want a girl.'
don't want a girl, there is not even enough for Magda to do. Why are
out of a place?'
been harvesting in the summer, but now no one will take me in with the
child. If I were alone I could get along.'
came in, and not being aware of Zoska's presence, started on seeing a
form on the floor.
do you want?' he asked.
thought Slimak might take me on, but he doesn't want me with the child.'
Lord!' sighed the man, moved by the sight of poverty greater than his
Maciek, that sounds as if you had a bad conscience,' said the gospodyni
makes one feel bad, to see such wretchedness,' he murmured.
man whose fault it is would feel it most!'
isn't my fault, but I'm sorry for them all the same.'
don't you take the child, then, if you are so sorry?' sneered
'you'll give him the child, Zoska, won't you? Is it a boy?'
girl,' whispered Zoska, with her eyes fixed on Maciek, 'she is two
old... yes, he can have her, if he likes.'
be a deal of trouble to me,' muttered the labourer, 'all the same, it's
her,' repeated Zoska, 'Slimak is rich, you are rich....'
yes, Maciek is rich,' laughed Slimakowa, 'he drinks through six roubles
in one Sunday.'
you can drink through six roubles, you can take her,' Zoska cried
pulling the child out of the shawl and laying it on the floor. It
frightened, but did not utter a sound.
up, Jagna, and don't talk nonsense,' said Slimak. Zoska stood up and
I shall be easy for once,' she said, 'I've often thought I'd like to
her away into a ditch, but you may as well have her. Mind you look
her properly! If I come back and don't find her, I'll scratch out your
are crazy,' said Slimak, 'cross yourself.'
won't cross myself, I'll go away....'
be a fool, and sit down to supper,' angrily cried the gospodyni. She
the saucepan off so impetuously, that the hot ashes flew all over the
and one touched Zoska's bare feet.
fire!' she shouted, and escaped from the room, 'the cottage is on fire,
everything is on fire!'
staggered out like a drunken person, and they could hear her voice
and farther off, shouting 'Fire!' until the rain drowned it.
Maciek, and bring her back,' cried Slimakowa. But Maciek did not stir.
can't send a man after a mad woman on a night like this,' said Slimak.
what am I to do with this dog's child? Do you think I shall feed her?'
dare say you won't throw her over the fence. You needn't worry, Zoska
come back for her.'
don't want her here for the night.'
what are you going to do with her?' said Slimak, getting angry.
take her to the stable,' Maciek said in a low voice, lifting the child
up awkwardly. He sat down on the bench with it and rocked it gently on
his knees. There was silence in the room. Presently Magda, Jendrek, and
Stasiek emerged from their corner and stood by Maciek, looking at the
is as thin as a lath,' whispered Magda.
doesn't move or look at us,' remarked Jendrek.
must feed her from a rag,' advised Magda, 'I will find you a clean one.'
down to supper,' ordered Slimakowa, but her voice sounded less angry.
looked at the child, first from a distance, then she bent over it and
its drawn yellow skin.
bitch of a mother!' she murmured, 'Magda, put a little milk in a
and you, Maciek, sit down to supper.'
Magda sit down, I'll feed her myself.'
her!' cried Magda, 'he doesn't even know how to hold her.' She tried to
take the child from him.
pull her to pieces,' said the gospodyni, 'pour out the milk and let
feed her, if he is so keen on it.'
way in which Maciek performed his task elicited much advice from Magda.
'He has poured the milk all over her mouth...it's running on to the
do you stick the rag into her nose?'
he felt that he was making a bad nurse, Maciek would not let the child
out of his hands. He hastily ate a little soup, left the rest, and went
to his night-quarters in the stable, sheltering the child under his
When he entered, one of the horses neighed, and the other turned his
and sniffed at the child in the darkness.
right, greet the new stable-boy who can't even hold a whip,' laughed
rain continued to fall. When Slimak looked out later on, the stable
was shut, and he fancied he could hear Maciek snoring.
returned into the room.
they all right in there?' asked his wife.
are asleep,' he replied, and bolted the door.
cocks had crowed midnight, the dog had barked his answer and squeezed
the cart for shelter, everybody was asleep. Then the stable door
and a shadow stole out, moved along the walls and disappeared into the
cowshed. It was Maciek. He drew the whimpering child from under his
and put its mouth to the cow's udder.
little one,' he whispered, 'suck the cow, because your mother has left
moments later smacking sounds were heard.
the rain continued to drip...drip...drip, monotonously.