announcement that the
railway was to be built in the spring caused a great stir in the
The strangers who went about buying land from the peasants were the
topic of conversation at the spinning-wheels on winter evenings. One
peasant had sold his barren gravel hill, and had been able to purchase
ten acres of the best land with the proceeds.
and his wife had
returned in December, and it was rumoured that they were going to sell
the property. The squire was playing the American organ all day long,
usual, and only laughed when the people timidly asked him whether there
was any truth in the report. It was the lady who had told her maid in
evening how gay the life in Warsaw would be; an hour later the
clerk, who was the maid's sweetheart, knew of it; early the next
the clerk repeated it to the bailiff and to the foreman as a great
and by the afternoon all the employees and labourers were discussing
great secret. In the evening it had reached the inn, and then rapidly
into the cottages and to the small town.
of the little word
'Sale' was truly marvellous.
It made the
careless in their work and the bailiff give notice at New Year; it made
the mute hard-working animals grow lean, the sheaves disappear from the
barn and the corn from the granary; it made off with the reserve
and harnesses, pulled the padlocks off the buildings, took planks out
the fences, and on dark nights it swallowed up now a chicken, now even
a sheep or a small pig, and sent the servants to the public-house every
A great, a
It sounded far and wide, and from the little town came the trades
presenting their bills. It was written on the face of every man, in the
sad eyes of the neglected beasts, on all the doors and on the broken
plastered up with paper. There were only two people who pretended not
hear it, the gentleman who played the American organ and the lady who
of going to Warsaw. When the neighbours asked them, he shrugged his
and she sighed and said: 'We should like to sell, it's dull living in
country, but my father in Warsaw has not yet had an offer.'
often went to
work at the manor, had also heard the rumour, but he did not believe
When he met the squire he would look at him and think: 'He can't help
as he is, but if such a misfortune should befall him, I should be
for him. They have been settled at the manor from father to son; half
churchyard is full of them, they have all grown up here. Even a stone
fret if it were moved from such a place, let alone a man. Surely, he
be bankrupt like other noblemen? It's well known that he has money.'
judged his squire
by himself. He did not know what it meant to have a young wife who was
bored in the country.
Slimak put his trust
in the squire's unruffled manner, cogitations were going on at the inn
under the guidance of Josel, the publican.
morning, half-way through
January, old Sobieska burst into the cottage. Although the winter sun
not yet begun to look round the world, the old woman was flushed, and
eyes looked bloodshot. Her lean chest was insufficiently covered by a
as old as herself and a torn chemise.
me some vodka
and I'll give you a little bit of news,' she called out. Slimak was
going off to thresh, but he sat down again and asked his wife to bring
the vodka, for he knew that the old woman usually knew what she was
She drank a
stamped her foot, gurgled 'Oo-ah!', wiped her mouth and said: 'I say!
squire is going to sell everything.'
of his field
crossed Slimak's mind and made his blood run cold, but he answered
the old woman hiccoughed,
'I tell you, it's gospel truth, and I'll tell you more: the richer
are settling with Josel and Gryb to buy the whole estate and the whole
village from the squire, so help me God!'
they settle that
they want to keep
you out. They say you will be better off as it is, because you will be
nearer to the station, and that you have already made a lot of money by
spoiling other people's business.'
and would have said more, but was suddenly overcome, and had to be
out of the room by Slimak.
He and his
for the rest of the day what would be the best thing to do under the
Towards evening he put on his new sukmana lined with sheepskin and went
to the inn.
Lukasiak were sitting
at the table. By the light of the two tallow candles they looked like
huge boundary-stones in their grey clothes. Josel stood behind the bar
in a dirty jersey with black stripes. He had a sharp nose, pointed
pointed curls, and wore a peaked cap; there was something pointed also
in his look.
be praised,' said
Eternity,' Josel answered
will have tea too,
but let it be as black as pitch, and with plenty of arrac.'
come to drink tea
with us?' Josel taunted him.
sitting down, 'I've come to find out....'
finished the innkeeper in an undertone.
is it true that you are buying land from the squire?' asked Slimak.
glances with Josel, who smiled. After a pause Lukasiak replied:
'Oh, we are
talking of it
for want of something better to do, but who would have the money for
a big undertaking?'
between you could
may, but it would
be for ourselves and those living in the village.'
take us into your
confidence about your business affairs, so mind you keep out of ours.'
only your affair,
but concerns the whole village.'
nobody's but mine,'
just as much.'
not so!' Gryb struck
the table with his fist: if I don't like a man, he shan't buy, and
an end of it.'
publican smiled. Seeing
that Slimak was getting pale with anger, Lukasiak took Gryb by the arm.
'Let us go
he said. 'What is the good of talking about things that may never come
off? Come along.'
at Josel and
'So you are
going to buy
without me?' asked Slimak.
without us last
summer.' They shook hands with the innkeeper and took no notice of
looked after them until
their footsteps could no longer be heard, then, still smiling, he
'Do you see
that it is a bad thing to take the bread out of a Jew's mouth? I have
fifty roubles through you and you have made twenty-five, but you have
a hundred roubles' worth of trouble, for the whole village is against
really mean to buy
the squire's land without me?'
shouldn't they? What
do they care about your loss if they can gain?'
Josel, 'might perhaps
be able to arrange the affair for you, but what should I gain by it?
have never been well disposed towards me, and you have already done me
won't arrange it?'
but on my own terms.'
all you will give
me back the fifty roubles. Secondly, you will build a cottage on your
for my brother-in-law.'
keep horses and
drive people to and from the station.'
am I to do with
gospodarz got up. 'Aren't
you going to give me any tea?'
any in the house.'
I won't pay you
fifty roubles, and I won't build a cottage for your brother-in-law.'
'Do as you
left the inn, banging the door.
turned his pointed
nose and beard in his direction and smiled.
darkness Slimak collided
with a labourer from the manor who carried a sack of corn on his back;
presently he saw one of the servant girls hiding a goose under her
When she recognized him she ran behind the fence. But Josel continued
smile. He smiled, when he paid the labourer a rouble for the corn,
the sack; he smiled, when the girl handed over the goose and got a
of sour beer in return; he smiled, when he listened to the gospodarze
the purchase of the land, and he smiled when he paid old Gryb two
per cent., and took two roubles from young Gryb for every ten he lent
His smile no more came off his face than his dirty jersey came off his
was out and the
children were asleep when Slimak returned home.
asked his wife, while
he was undressing in the dark.
'This is a
trick of Josel's.
He drives the others like a team of oxen.'
let you in?'
won't, but I shall
go to the squire about the field.'
else it may be
came; the day after
came and went; a week passed, but Slimak had not yet done anything. One
day he said he must thresh for a corn dealer, the other day that he had
a pain inside.
As a matter
of fact, he neither
threshed nor had a pain inside; but something held him back which
call being afraid, gentlemen slackness, and scholars inertia.
little, wandered round
aimlessly, and often stood still in the snow-covered field by the
struggling with himself. Reason told him that he ought to go to the
and settle the matter, but another power held him fast and whispered:
hurry, wait another day, it will all come right somehow.'
don't you go
to the squire?' his wife asked day after day.
turned up again. She was suffering from rheumatism, and required
with a 'thimbleful' of vodka which loosened her tongue.
like this,' she began:
'Gryb and Lukasiak went with Grochowski, all three dressed as for a
Christi procession. The squire received them in the bailiff's office,
Gryb cleared his throat and went for it. "We have heard, sir, that you
are going to sell your family estate. Every man has a right to sell,
the other to buy. But it would be a pity to allow the land which your
possessed, and which we peasants have cultivated, to fall into the
have no associations
with old times. Therefore, sir, sell the land to us." I tell
continued, 'he talked for an hour, like the priest in the pulpit; at
Lukasiak got stiff in the back, and they all burst out crying. Then
they embraced the squire's feet, and he took their heads between his
1: The peasants
would stand bent all the time.]
2: A nobleman,
in order to show goodwill to his subordinates, slightly presses their
between his hands.]
are they buying?'
Slimak interrupted impatiently.
shouldn't they buy?
Certainly they are buying. They are not yet quite agreed as to the
for the squire wants a hundred roubles an acre, and the peasants are
fifty; but they cried so much, and talked so long about good feeling
peasants and landowners that the gospodarze will add another ten, and
squire will let them off the rest. Josel has told them to give that
and no more, and not to be in a hurry, then they'll be sure to drive a
good bargain. He's a
he has taken the matter in hand, people have flocked to the inn as if
Holy Mother were working miracles there.'
still setting the
others against me?'
'He is not
them against you, but he puts in a word now and then that you can no
count as a gospodarz, since you have taken to trading. The others are
more angry with you than he is; they can't forget that you sold
at just double the price you bought them for.'
of this news was
that Slimak set out for the manor-house early the next day, and
depressed in the afternoon. A large bowl of sauerkraut presently made
willing to discourse.
like this: I arrive
at the manor, and when I look up I see that all the windows of the
room on the ground floor are wide open. God forbid! has some one died?
I think to myself. I peep in and see Mateus, the footman, in a white
with brushes on his feet, skating up and down like the boys on the ice.
"The Lord be praised, Mateus, what are you doing?" I say. "In Eternity,
I am polishing the floor," says he; "we are going to have a big dance
to-night." "Is the
yet?" "He is up,
but the tailor is with him; he is trying on a Crakovian costume. My
is going to be a gipsy." "I want him to sell me that field," I say.
says: "Don't be a fool! how can the squire think of your field, when he
is amusing himself making up as a Crakovian." So I go away from the
and stand about near the kitchen for a bit. They are bustling like
the fire is burning like a forge, and the butter is hissing. Presently
Ignaz, the kitchen boy, comes out, covered with blood, as if he had
stuck. "Ignaz, for God's sake, what have you been doing?" I ask. "I
been doing anything; it's the cook, he's been boxing my ears with a
duck." "The Lord be praised it is not your blood. Tell me where I can
the squire." "Wait here," he says, "they'll bring in the boar, and the
squire is sure to come and have a look at it." Ignaz runs off, and I
and wait, until the shivers run down my back. But still I wait.'
did you see the
squire?' Slimakowa asked impatiently.
I saw him.'
speak to him?'
told him I
wanted to beg a favour of him about the field, but he said, "Oh, leave
me alone, I have no head for business to-day."'
will you go again?'
up his hands:
'Perhaps to-morrow, or the day after, when they have slept off their
day Maciek drove
a sledge to the forest, taking with him an axe, a bite of food, and
Zoska's' daughter. The mother had never asked after her, and Maciek had
mothered the child; he fed her, took her to the stable with him at
and to his work in the day-time.
was so weak that
it hardly ever uttered a sound. Every one, especially Sobieska, had
her early death.
last a week.'...'She'll
die tomorrow.'...'She's as good as gone already.'
But she had
the week and longer, and even when she had been taken for dead once,
opened her tired eyes to the world again. Maciek paid no attention to
prognostications. 'Never fear,' he said, 'nothing will happen to her.'
He continued to feed her in the cowshed after dark.
you take trouble
about that wretched child, Maciek?' Slimakowa would say; 'if you talked
to her about the Blessed Bible itself she would take no notice; she's
stupid, I never saw such a noodle in all my life.'
doesn't talk, because
she has sense,' said Maciek; 'when she begins to talk she will be as
as an old man.'
because Maciek was
in the habit of talking to her about his work, whatever he might be
manuring, threshing, or patching his clothes.
was taking her
with him to the forest, tied to the sledge, and wrapt in the remnants
his old sheepskin and a shawl. Uphill and downhill over the hummocks
the sledge, until they arrived on level ground, where the slanting rays
of the sun, endlessly reflected from the snow-crystals, fell into their
eyes. The child began to cry.
turned her sideways,
scolding: 'Now then, I told you to shut your eyes! No man, and if he
the bishop himself, can look at the sun; it's God's lantern. At
the Lord Jesus takes it into his hand and has a look round his
In the winter, when the frost is hard, he takes a short cut and sleeps
longer. But he makes up for it in the summer, and looks all over the
till eight o'clock at night. That's why one should be astir from
till sunset. But you may sleep longer, little one, for you aren't much
use yet. Woa!' They entered the forest. 'Here we are! this is the
and it belongs to the squire. Slimak has bought a cartload of wood, and
we must get it home before the roads are too bad. Steady, lads!' They
by a square pile of wood. Maciek untied the child and put her in a
place, took out a bottle of milk and put it to her lips. 'Drink it and
get strong, there will be some work for you. The logs are
heavy, and you
them into the sledge. You don't want the milk? Naughty girl! Call out
you want it.... A little child like that makes things cheerful for a
he reflected. 'Formerly there never was any one to open one's mouth to,
now one can talk all the time. Now watch how the work should be done.
would pull the logs about, and get tired in no time and stop. But mind
you take them from the top, carefully, and lift them into the sledge,
by one like this. Never be in a hurry, little one, or else the damned
will tire you out. It doesn't want to go on to the sledge, for it has
and knows what to expect. We all prefer our own corner of the world,
if it is a bad one. But to you and me it's all the same, we have no
of our own; die here or die there, it makes no difference.' Now and
he rested, or tucked the child up more closely.
the sky had reddened,
and a strong north-west wind sprang up, saturated with moisture. The
held in its winter sleep, slowly began to move and to talk. The green
needles trembled, then the branches and boughs began to sway and beckon
to each other. The tops, and finally the stems rocked forward and
as if they contemplated starting on a march. It was as if their eternal
fixedness grieved them, and they were setting out in a tumultuous crowd
to the ends of the world. Sometimes they became motionless near the
as though they did not wish to betray their secret to a human being.
the tramp of countless feet, the march past of whole columns of the
wing, could be heard distinctly; they approached, and passed at a
The left wing followed; the snow creaked under their footsteps, they
already in a line with the sledge. The middle column, emboldened, began
to call in mighty whispers. Then they halted angrily, stood still in
places and seemed to roar: 'Go away! go away, and do not hinder us!'
was only a poor
labourer, and though he was afraid of the giants, and would gladly have
made room for them, he could not leave until he had loaded up his
He did not rest now or rub his frozen hands; he worked as fast as he
so that the night and the winter storms should not overtake him.
grew darker and darker
with clouds; mists rose in the forests and froze into fine crystals
instantly covered Maciek's sukmana, the child's shawl, and the horses'
manes with a crackling crust. The logs became so slippery that his
could scarcely hold them; the ground was like glass. He looked
towards the setting sun: it was dangerous to return with a heavy load
the roads were in that condition. He crossed himself, put the child
the sledge, and
whipped up the
stood in fear of many things, but most of all he feared the overturning
of a sledge or cart, and being crushed underneath.
were out of the
wood the track became worse and worse. The rough-hewn runners
sank into snow-drifts and the sledge canted over, so that the poor man,
trembling with fear and cold, had to prop it up with all his strength.
If his twisted foot gave way, there was an end to him and the child.
to time the horses
stopped dead, and Maciek ceased shouting. Then a great silence spread
him, only the distant roar of the forest, the whistling of the wind,
the whimpering of the child could be heard.
began again, and
the horses tugged and slipped where they stood, moved on a few steps,
protection we flee,
Holy Mother of God!' he whispered, took his axe and cut into the smooth
road in front of the horses.
It took him
a long time to
cover the short distance to the high road, but when they got there, the
horses refused to go on at all. The hill in front of them was
He sat down on the sledge, pondering whether Slimak would come to his
or leave him to his fate. 'He'll come for the horses; don't cry, little
one, God won't forsake us.' While he listened, it seemed to him as if
whistling of the wind changed into the sound of bells. Was it his
But the bells
deep-toned and some high-toned; voices were intermixed with them. They
approached from behind like a swarm of bees in the summer.
it be?' said Maciek,
and stood up.
flames shone in the
distance. They disappeared among the juniper bushes, and then flickered
up again, now high, now low, coming nearer and nearer, until a number
objects, running at full speed, could be seen in the uncertain light of
the flames. The tumult of voices increased; Maciek heard the clattering
of hoofs, the cracking of whips.
stop...there's a hill
don't be crazy!'
sledge, I shall
'No, go on!'
but they will be.'
this was a sleigh race. The teams of two-and four-horsed sleighs
at a gallop, accompanied by riders on horseback carrying torches. In
thick mist it looked as if the procession appeared out of an abyss
a circular gate of fire. They bore straight down upon the spot where
and his sledge had come to a standstill. Suddenly the first one stopped.
is in the way.'
with a cartload
'Out of the
way, dog. Throw
him into the ditch!'
We'd better move
will! We are going
to move the peasant on. Out of your sledges, gentlemen!'
Maciek had recovered
from his astonishment, he was surrounded by masked men in rich costumes
with plumed hats, swords, guitars, or brooms. They seized his sledge
himself, pushed them to the top of the hill and down the other side on
to level ground.
God!' thought the
dazed man. 'If the devil hadn't led them this way, I might have been
till the morning. They are fine fellows!'
are afraid to
drive down the hill,' some one shouted from the distance.
them get out and
sledges had better not
Go on, Antoni!'
advise it, sir.'
off and be hanged!
I'll drive myself!'
and a one-horse sledge passed Maciek like a whirlwind. He crossed
Count! It's too risky!'
sledge flew past.
were racing each
other, a driver and a mask in each. The mad race had made the road
safe for the other empty sledges to pass with greater caution.
your arm to the
ladies! A polonaise! Musicians!'
outriders with torches
posted themselves along the road, the musicians tuned up, and couple
couple detached itself from the darkness like an iridescent apparition.
They hovered past to the melancholy strains of the Oginski polonaise.
off his cap,
drew the child from under the sheepskin and stood beside his sledge.
you'll never see
anything so beautiful again. Don't be afraid!'
and visored man
'Do you see
Formerly people like that conquered half the world, now there are none
of them left.'
grey-bearded senator passed.
him! People used
to fear his judgment, but there are none like him left! That one, as
as a woodpecker, was a great nobleman once; he did nothing but drink
dance; he could drain a barrel at a bout, and he spent so much money
he had to sell his family estate, poor wretch! There's a Uhlan; they
to fight for Napoleon and conquer all the nations, but there are no
left in the world. There's a chimney sweep and a peasant...but in
they are all
procession passed; fainter
and fainter grew the strains of the Oginski polonaise; with shouts and
laughter the masks got back into the sleighs, hoofs clattered and whips
homeward in the wake of the jingling sleighs. Distant flames were still
twinkling ahead, and the wind carried faint sounds of merriment back to
him. Then all was silent.
doing right?' he
recalled the portrait
of the grey-headed senator in the choir of the church; he had even
to it sometimes.... The bald-headed nobleman was there too, whom the
called 'the cursed man', and the knight in armour who was lying on his
tomb beside the altar of the Holy Martyr Apollonius. Then he remembered
the friar who walked through the Vistula, and Queen Jadwiga who had
salt from Hungary. And by the side of all these he saw his own old wise
had been a
soldier under Napoleon, and came home without a penny, and in his old
became sacristan at the church, and explained all the pictures to the
so beautifully that he earned more money than the organist.
rest his soul eternally!'
these noblemen were
amusing themselves with sacred matters! What would they do next?...
him when he was
about a verst from the cottage.
been wondering if
you had got stuck on the hill. Thank God you are safe. Did you see the
they did not smash
you to pieces.'
they? They even
helped me up the hill.'
And they didn't
pull you about?'
pulled my cap
over my ears.'
just like them;
either they will smash you up, or else be kindness itself, it just
what temper they're in.'
way they drove down
those hills made one's flesh creep. No sober man would have come out of
them; there was one traveller in the first and two in the second.
tell me where that
sleigh party was driving to?' asked the occupant of the first.
Do you know if
Josel, the innkeeper, is at home?'
'I dare say
he is, unless
he is off on some swindle or other.'
know if your squire
has sold his estate yet?' asked a guttural voice from the second sledge.
shouldn't ask him such
a question, Fritz,' remonstrated his companion.
devil take the whole
business!' replied Fritz.
they are again!'
all those Old Testament
Jews want?' asked Maciek.
only one Jew,
the others are Germans from Wolka.'
gentlefolks never have
any peace; no sooner do they want to enjoy themselves, than the Jews
after them,' said Maciek.
the travellers were now with difficulty driving towards the valley, and
presently stopped at Josel's inn.
in front of the manor house threw a rosy glare over the wintry
distant sounds of music came floating on the air.
out and directed
the Jew's sledge to the manor. The Germans got out, and one of them
after the departing Jew: 'You will see nothing will come of it; they
what of that?'
does not give
up a dance for a business interview.'
will sell without
'Or put you
'I have no
time for that.'
of the manor-house
glowed as in a bengal light; the sleigh-bells were still tinkling in
yard, where the coachmen were quarrelling over accommodation for their
horses. Crowds of village people were leaning against the railings to
the dancers flit past the windows, and to catch the strains of the
Around all this noise, brightness, and merriment lay the darkness of
winter night, and from the winter night emerged slowly the sledge,
the silent, meditating Jew.
at the gate, and he dragged himself to the kitchen entrance; his whole
demeanour betrayed great mental and physical tiredness. He tried to
the attention of the cook, but failed entirely; the kitchen-maid also
her back on him. At last he got hold of a boy who was hurrying across
the pantry, seized him by the shoulders, and pressed a twenty
into his hand.
have another twenty
kopeks if you will bring the footman.'
honour know Mateus?'
The boy scrutinized him sharply.
bring him here.'
appeared without delay.
'Here is a
rouble for you;
ask your master if he will see me, and I will double it.' The footman
is sure to refuse.'
it is Pan Hirschgold,
on urgent business from my lady's father. Here is another rouble, so
you do not forget the name.'
but did not quickly return. The music stopped, yet he did not return; a
polka followed, yet he did not return. At last he appeared: 'The master
asks you to come to the bailiff's office.' He took Pan Hirschgold into
a room where several camp-beds had been made up for the guests. The Jew
took off his expensive fur, sat down in an armchair by the fire and
had been finished,
and a vigorous mazurka began. The tumult and stamping increased from
to time; commands rang out, and were followed by a noise which shook
house from top to bottom. The Jew listened indifferently, and waited
there was a great
commotion in the passage; the door was opened impetuously, and the
dressed as a Crakovian
peasant in a red coat covered with jingling ornaments, wide,
breeches, a red cap with a peacock's feather, and iron-shod shoes.
you, Pan Hirschgold?'
he cried good-humouredly, 'what is this urgent message from my
I'm dancing a
'And I am
building a railway.'
bit his lip, and
quickly ran his eye over the letter. The noise of the dancers increased.
to buy my estate?'
at once, sir.'
see that I am giving
colonists are waiting
to come in, sir. If you cannot settle with me before midnight, I shall
settle with your neighbour. He gains, and you lose.'
was becoming feverish.
you highly...all the same,...on the spur of the moment....'
only write a word
dashed his red
cap down on the table. 'Really, Pan Hirschgold, this is unbearable!'
my fault; I should
like to oblige you, but business is pressing.'
in the passage, and the Uhlan burst into the room, 'For heaven's sake,
what are you doing, Wladek?'
lady is waiting
for some one
to take my place; I tell you, it's urgent.'
know how the lady
will take it!' cried the retreating Uhlan.
powerful bass voice of
the leader of the mazurka rang out: 'Ladies' ronde!'
will you give me?'
hastily began the squire. 'Rather an original situation!' he
added, with humour.
acre. This is my highest offer. To-morrow I should only give
from the ball-room.
cried the squire,
'I should prefer to sell to the peasants.'
fifty, or at the
'Or go on
managing the estate
doing that now...what
is the result?'
you mean?' said
the squire irritably, 'it's excellent soil....'
'I know all
about the property,'
interrupted the Jew, 'from the bailiff who left at New Year.'
'I can sell to the colonists myself.'
but meanwhile my lady is dying of boredom.'
to the left!'
'God, what am I to do?'
father-in-law advises you to do so, and tells you that I shall pay the
burst into the room.
you really must
come; the Count is mortally offended, and says he will take his
confound it! Pan Hirschgold,
write the agreement at once, I will be back directly.'
of the gaiety of
the dance, the Jew calmly took an inkpot, pen, and paper out of his
wrote a dozen lines, and sat down, waiting for the noise to subside.
of an hour later
the squire returned in the best of spirits.
read the paper,
signed, and said with a smile:
you think is the
value of this agreement?'
the legal value
is not great, but it has some value for your father-in-law, and
he is a rich man!'
He blew on
folded up the paper, and asked with a shade of irony: 'Well, and the
'Oh, he is
want more pacifying
presently, when his creditors become annoying. I wish you a pleasant
had the squire
left the room, than Mateus, the footman, appeared, as if the ground had
produced him. He helped the Jew into his coat.
buy the estate,
shouldn't I? It's not
the first, nor will it be the last.'
He gave the
roubles. Mateus bowed to the ground and offered to call his sledge.
thank you,' said
the Jew, 'I have left my own sledge in Warsaw, and I am not anxious to
parade this wretched conveyance.'
him deferentially into the yard.
ballroom polkas, valses,
and mazurkas followed each other endlessly until the pale dawn
and the cottage fires were lit.
with the winter
sun, and whispering a prayer, walked out of the gate. He looked at the
sky, then towards the manor-house, wondering how long the merrymaking
going to last.
The sky was
blue, the first
sun rays were bathing the snow in rose colour, and the clouds in
Slimak drew a deep breath, and felt that it was better to be out in the
fresh air than indoors, dancing.
without need,' he thought, 'when they might be sleeping to their
content!' Then he resumed his prayer. His attention was attracted by
and he saw two men in navy blue overcoats. When they caught sight of
one asked at once:
your hill, gospodarz,
looked at them in
'Why do you
keep on asking
me about my property? I told you last summerthat the hill was mine.'
it to us,' said
the man with the beard.
the older man.
are you going
to gossip again, father?'
the father, 'we have bought the squire's estate. Now we want this;
because we want to build a windmill....'
son disagreeably, 'have you lost your senses,
Listen! we want
the peasant repeated
in amazement, looking about him, 'my land?'
hesitated for a moment,
not knowing what to say. 'What right have you gentlemen to my land?'
for money? We have been settled here from father to son; we were here
the time of the scourge of serfdom, and even then we used to call the
"ours". My father got it for his own by decree from the Emperor
II; the Land Commission settled all that, and we have the proper
with signatures attached. How can you say now that you want to buy my
man had turned
away indifferently during Slimak's long speech and whistled, the older
man shook his fist impatiently.
want to buy it...pay
for it...cash! Sixty roubles an acre.'
wouldn't sell it for
a hundred,' said Slimak.
could come to
terms, gospodarz.' The peasant burst out laughing.
have you lived
so long in this world, and don't understand that I would not sell my
on any terms whatever?'
buy thirty acres
the other side of the Bug with what we should pay you.'
'If land is
so cheap the
other side of the Bug, why don't you buy it yourself instead of coming
here?' The son laughed.
'He is no
fool, father; he
is telling you what I have been telling you from morning till night.'
The old man
he said, pressing
it, 'let us talk like Christians and not like heathens. We praise the
God, why should we not agree? You see, I have a son who is an expert
and I should like him to have a windmill on that hill. When he has a
he will grow steady and work and get married. Then I could be happy in
my old age. That hill is nothing to you.'
my land, no one
has a right to it.'
'No one has
a right to it,
but I want to buy it.'
I won't sell it!'
The old man
made a wry face,
as if he were ready to cry. He drew the peasant a few steps aside, and
said in a voice trembling with emotion: 'Why are you so hard on me,
You see, my sons don't hit it off with each other. The elder is a
and I want to set up the younger as a miller and have him near me. I
long to live, I am eighty years old, don't quarrel with me.'
buy land elsewhere?'
well. We are a
whole community settling together; it would take a long time to make
arrangements. My son Wilhelm does not like farming, and unless I buy
a windmill he will starve or go away from me. I am an old man, sell me
your land! Listen,' he whispered, 'I will give you seventy-five roubles
an acre. God is my witness, I am offering you more than the land is
But you will let me have it, won't you? You are an honest man and a
looked with astonishment
and pity at the old man, from whose inflamed eyes the tears were
have much sense,
sir, to ask me such a thing,' he said. 'Would you ask a man to cut off
his hand? What could a peasant do without his land?'
buy twice as much.
I will help you to find it.'
shook his head. 'You
are talking as a man talks when he digs up a shrub in the woods.
he says, "you shall be near my cottage!" The shrub comes because it
but it soon dies.'
with the beard approached
and spoke to his father in German.
won't sell me your
land?' said the old man.
'And I tell
you, you will
sell it,' cried the younger man, drawing his father away. They went
the bridge, talking German loudly.
rested his chin
on his hand and looked after them; then his eyes fell on the
and he returned to the cottage at full speed. 'Jagna,' he cried, 'do
know that the squire has sold his estate?' The gospodyni crossed
with a spoon.
name of the Father...Are
you mad, Josef? Who told you so?'
Germans spoke to me
just now; they told me. And, Jagna, they want to buy our land, our own
off your head altogether!'
cried the woman. 'Jendrek, go and see if there are any Germans about;
father is talking nonsense.'
returned with the
information that he had seen two men in blue overcoats the other side
on the bench,
his head drooping, his hands resting limply on his knees. The morning
had turned grey, and made men and objects look dull. The gospodyni
looked attentively at her husband.
you so pale?' she
asked. 'What is the matter?'
the matter? A nice
question for a clever woman to ask! Don't you understand that the
will take the field away from us if the squire has sold it to them?'
they? We could
the rent to them.'
tried to talk confidently,
but her voice was unsteady.
know what you're
talking about! Germans keep cattle and are sharp after grazing land.
they will want to get rid of me.'
see who gets rid
of whom!' Slimakowa said sharply.
and stood in front
of her husband, with her arms akimbo, gradually raising her voice.
a man! He has
only just looked at the Swabian vermin, and he has lost heart
They will take away the field? Well, what of that? we will drive the
into it all the same.'
1: The Polish peasants
call all Germans 'Swabians'.]
shoot the cattle.'
will go to law
and worry the life out of me.'
then we will
sell us any, and we shan't get a blade from the Germans.'
breakfast was boiling
over, but the housewife paid no attention to it. She shook her clenched
fists at her husband.
you mean, Josef!
Pull yourself together! This is bad, and that is no good!...What will
do then? You are taking the courage away from me, a woman, instead of
up your mind what to do. Aren't you ashamed before the children and
to sit there like a dying man, rolling your eyes? Do you think I shall
let the children starve for the sake of your Germans, or do you think I
shall get rid of the cow? Don't imagine that I shall allow you to sell
your land! No fear! If I fall down dead and they bury me, I shall dig
out again and prevent you from doing the children harm! Why are you
there, looking at me like a sheep? Eat your breakfast and go to the
Find out if the squire has really sold his land, and if he hasn't, fall
at his feet, and lie there till he lets you have the field, even if you
have to pay sixty roubles.'
'And if he
has sold it?'
'If he has
sold it, may God
give us the field.'
'You are a
fool!' she cried.
'We and the children and the cattle have lived by God's grace and not
so,' said Slimak,
suddenly getting up. 'Give me my breakfast. What are you crying for?'
Slimakowa had actually broken down.
'How am I
not to cry,' she
sobbed, 'when the merciful God has punished me with such an idiot of a
husband? He will do nothing himself and takes away my courage into the
'Don't be a
fool,' he said,
with his face clouding. 'I'll go to the squire at once, even if I
have to give sixty roubles.'
'But if the
field is sold?'
we have lived
by the grace of God and not by his.'
will you get
your pots and
pans, and don't meddle with a man's affairs.'
Germans will drive you
they will!' He
struck the table with his fist. 'If I were to fall down dead, if they
me into little pieces, I wouldn't let the dogs have my land. Give me my
breakfast, or I'll ask you the reason why!...And you, Jendrek, be off
Maciek, or I shall get the strap!'
shone into the ballroom
of the manorhouse through every chink and opening; streaks of white
lay on the floor, which was dented by the dancers' heels, and on the
the rays were reflected in the mirrors, rested on the gilt cornices and
on the polished furniture. In comparison with them the light of the
and lamps looked yellow and turbid. The ladies were pale and had blue
round their eyes, the powder was falling from their dishevelled hair,
dresses were crumpled, and here and there in holes. The padding showed
under the imitation gold of the braids and belts of notables; rich
had turned into cheap velveteens, beaver fur to rabbit skins, and
armour to tin. The musicians' hands dropped, the dancers' legs had
stiff. Intoxication had cooled and given place to heaviness; lips
Only three couples were now turning in the middle of the room, then
then none. There was a lack of arm-chairs for the men; the ladies hid
yawns behind their fans. At last the music ceased, and as no one said
a dead silence spread through the room. Candles began to splutter and
out, lamps smoked.
go in to tea?'
asked the squire, in a hoarse voice.
bed...to bed,' whispered
bedrooms are ready,'
he said, trying to sound cheerful, in spite of sleepiness and a cold.
up, threw their wraps over their shoulders and left the room, turning
faces away from the windows.
ballroom was empty,
save for the old cellist, who had gone to sleep with his arms round his
instrument. The bustle was transferred to distant rooms; there was much
stamping upstairs and noise of men's voices in the courtyard. Then all
along the passages, looked dully round the ballroom, and said, yawning:
'Put out the lights, Mateus, and open the windows. Where is my lady?'
has gone to her
My lady, in
gipsy costume and a diamond hoop in her hair, was lying in an
her head thrown back. The squire dropped into another arm-chair,
was a great success.'
yawned my lady.
ought to be satisfied.'
After a while he spoke again.
know that I have
sold the estate?'
Hirschgold; he is giving
me seventy-five roubles an acre.'
we shall get away
might come and
give me a kiss!'
too tired. Come
here, if you want one.'
that you should
come here. I've done exceedingly well.'
yes, some acquaintance of father's. The first mazurka was splendid,