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The Outpost 

by Boleslaw Prus (Aleksander Glowacki)
CHAPTER VII

The squire and his wife left for Warsaw a week after the ball. Their place was taken by Hirschgold's agent, a freckle-faced Jew, who installed himself in a small room in the bailiffs house, spent his days in looking through and sending out accounts, and bolted the door and slept with two revolvers under his pillow at night.

The squire had taken part of the furniture with him, the rest of the suites and fixtures were sold to the neighbouring gentry; the Jews bought up the library by the pound, the priest acquired the American organ, the garden-seats passed into Gryb's ownership, and for three roubles the peasant Orzchewski became possessed of the large engraving of Leda and the Swan, to which the purchaser and his family said their prayers. The inlaid floors henceforward decorated the magisterial
court, and the damask hangings were bought by the tailors and made into bodices for the village girls.

When Slimak went a few weeks later to have a look at the manor-house he could not believe his eyes at the sight of the destruction that had taken place. There were no panes in the windows and not a single latch left on the wide-open doors; the walls had been stripped and the floors taken up. The drawing-room was a dungheap, Pani Joselawa, the innkeeper's wife, had put up hencoops there and in the adjoining rooms; axes and saws were lying about everywhere. The farmhands, who according to agreement were kept on till midsummer, strolled idly from corner to corner; one of the teamdrivers had taken desperately to drink; the housekeeper was ill with fever, and the pantryboy, as well as one of the farm-boys, were in prison for stealing latches off the doors.

'Good God!' said the peasant.

He was seized with fear at the thought of the unknown power which had ruined the ancient manor-house in a moment. An invisible cloud seemed to be hanging over the valley and the village; the first flash of lightning had struck and completely shattered the seat of its owners.

Some days later the neighbourhood began to swarm with strangers, woodcutters and sawyers, mostly Germans. They walked and drove in crowds along the road past Slimak's cottage; sometimes they marched in detachments like soldiers. They were quartered at the manor, where they turned out the servants and the remaining cattle: they occupied every corner. At night they lit great fires in the courtyard, and in the morning they all walked off to the woods. At first it was difficult to
guess what they were doing. Soon, however, there was a distant echo as of someone drumming with his fingers on the table; at last the sound of the axe and the thud of falling trees was heard quite plainly. Fresh inroads on the wavy contour of the forest appeared continually; first crevices, then windows, then wide openings, and for the first time since the world was the world, the astonished sky looked into the valley from that side.

The wood fell: only the sky remained and the earth with a few juniper bushes and countless rows of tree-trunks, hastily stripped of their branches. The rapacious axe had not spared one of the leafy tribe. Not one--not even the centenarian oak which had been touched by lightning more than once. Gazing upwards, this defier of storms had hardly noticed the worms turning round its feet, and the blows of their axes meant no more to it than the tapping of the woodpecker. It fell
suddenly, convinced at the last that the world was insecure after all, and not worth living in.

There was another oak, half withered, on the branches of which the unfortunate Simon Golamb[1] had hanged himself; the people passed it in fear.

[Footnote 1: Polish spelling: _Gotab_.]

'Flee!' it murmured, when the woodcutters approached. 'I bring you death; only one man dared to touch my branches, and he died.' But the woodcutters paid no heed, deeper and deeper they sent the sharp axe into its heart, and with a roar it swayed and fell.

The night-wind moaned over the corpses of the strong trees, and the birds and wild creatures, deprived of their native habitations, mourned.

Older still than the oaks were the huge boulders thickly sown over the fields. The peasants had never touched them; they were too heavy to be removed; moreover, there was a superstition that the rebellious devils had in the first days of the creation thrown these stones at the angels, and that it was unlucky to touch them. Overgrown with moss they each lay in an island of green grass; the shepherds lit their fires beneath them on chilly nights, the ploughmen lay down in their shade on a hot afternoon, the hawker would sometimes hide his treasures underneath them.

Now their last hour had struck too; men began to busy themselves about them. At first the village people thought that the 'Swabians' were looking for treasure; but Jendrek found out that they were boring holes in the venerable stones.

'What are the idiots doing that for?' asked Slimakowa. 'Blessed if I know what's the good of that to them!'

'I know, neighbour,' said old Sobieska, blinking her eyes; 'they are boring because they have heard that there are toads inside those big stones.'

'And what if there are?'

'You see, they want to know if it's true.'

'But what's that to them?'

'I'll be hanged if I know!' retorted Sobieska in such a decided tone that Slimakowa considered the matter as settled.

The Germans, however, were not looking for toads. Before long such a cannonading began that the echoes reached the farthest ends of the valley, telling every one that not even the rocks were able to withstand the Germans.

'Those Swabians are a hard race,' muttered Slimak, as he gazed on the giants that had been dashed to pieces. He thought of the colonists for whom the property had been bought, and who now wanted his land as well.

'They are not anywhere about,' he thought; 'perhaps they won't come after all.'

But they came.

One morning, early in April, Slimak went out before sunrise as usual to say his prayers in the open. The east was flushed with pink, the stars were paling, only the morning star shone like a jewel, and was welcomed from below by the awakening birds.

The peasant's lips moved in prayer, while he fixed his eyes on the white mist which covered the ground like snow. Then it was that he heard a distant sound from beyond the hills, a rumble of carts and the voices of many people. He quickly walked up the lonely pine hill and perceived a long procession of carts covered with awnings, filled with human beings and their domestic and agricultural implements. Men in navy-blue coats and straw hats were walking beside them, cows were tied
behind, and small herds of pigs were scrambling in and out of the procession. A little cart, scarcely larger than a child's, brought up the rear; it was drawn by a dog and a woman, and conveyed a man whose feet were dangling down in front.

'The Swabians are coming!' flashed through Slimak's mind, but he put the thought away from him.

'Maybe they are gipsies,' he argued. But no--they were not dressed like gipsies, and woodcutters don't take cattle about with them--then who were they?

He shrank from the thought that the colonists were actually coming.

'Maybe it's they, maybe not...' he whispered.

For a moment a hill concealed them from his view, and he hoped that the vision had dissolved into the light of day. But there they were again, and each step of their lean horses brought them nearer. The sun was gilding the hill which they were ascending, and the larks were singing brightly to welcome them.

Across the valley the church bell was ringing. Was it calling to prayers as usual, or did it warn the people of the invasion of a foreign power?

Slimak looked towards the village. The cottage-doors were closed, no one was astir, and even if he had shouted aloud, 'Look, gospodarze, the Germans are here!' no one would have been alarmed.

The string of noisy people now began to file past Slimak's cottage. The tired horses were walking slowly, the cows could scarcely lift their feet, the pigs squeaked and stumbled. But the people were happy,laughing and shouting from cart to cart. They turned round by the bridge on to the open ground.

The small cart in the rear had now reached Slimak's gate; the big dog fell down panting, the man raised himself to a sitting position and the girl took the strap from her shoulder and wiped her perspiring forehead. Slimak was seized with pity for them; he came down from the hill and approached the travellers.

'Where do you all come from? Who are you?' he asked.

'We are colonists from beyond the Vistula,' the girl answered. 'Our people have bought land here, and we have come with them.'

'But have not you bought land also?'

The woman shrugged her shoulders.

'Is it the custom with you for the women to drag the men about?'

'What can we do? we have no horses and my father cannot walk on his own feet.'

'Is your father lame?'

'Yes.'

The peasant reflected for a moment.

'Then he is hanging on to the others, as it were?'

'Oh no,' replied the girl with much spirit, 'father teaches the children and I take in sewing, and when there is no sewing to do I work in the fields.'

Slimak looked at her with surprise and said, after a pause: 'You can't be German, you talk our language very well.'

'We are from Germany.'

'Yes, we are Germans,' said the man in the cart, speaking for the first time.

Slimakowa and Jendrek now came out of the cottage and joined the group at the gate.

'What a strong dog!' cried Jendrek.

'Look here,' said Slimak, 'this lady has dragged her lame father a long way in the cart; would you do that, you scamp?'

'Why should I? Haven't they any horses, dad?'

'We have had horses,' murmured the man in the cart, 'but we haven't any
now.'

He was pale and thin, with red hair and beard.

'Wouldn't you like to rest and have something to eat after your long journey?' inquired Slimak.

'I don't want anything to eat, but my father would like some milk.'

'Run and get some milk, Jendrek,' cried Slimak.

'Meaning no offence,' said Slimakowa, 'but you Germans can't have a country of your own, or else you wouldn't come here.'

'This is our home,' the girl replied. 'I was born in this country, the other side of the Vistula.'

Her father made an impatient movement and said in a broken voice: 'We Germans have a country of our own, larger than yours, but it's not pleasant to live in: too many people, too little land; it's difficult to make a living, and we have to pay heavy taxes and do hard military service, and there are penalties for everything.'

He coughed and continued after a pause: 'Everybody wants to be comfortable and live as he pleases, and not as others tell him. It's not pleasant to live in our country, so we've come here.'

Jendrek brought the milk and offered it to the girl, who gave it to her father.

'God repay you!' sighed the invalid; 'the people in this country are kind.'

'I wish you would not do us harm,' said Slimakowa in a half-whisper.

'Why should we do you harm?' said the man. 'Do we take your land? do we steal? do we murder you? We are quiet people, we get in nobody's way so long as nobody gets...'

'You have bought the land here,' Slimak interrupted.

'But why did your squire sell it to us? If thirty peasants had been settled here instead of one man, who did nothing but squander his money, our people would not have come. Why did not you yourselves form a community and buy the village? Your money would have been as good as ours. You have been settled here for ages, but the colonists had to come in before you troubled about the land, and then no sooner have they bought it than they become a stumbling-block to you! Why wasn't
the squire a stumbling-block to you?'

Breathless, he paused and looked at his wasted arms, then continued: 'To whom is it that the colonists resell their land? To you peasants! On the other side of the Vistula[1] the peasants bought up every scrap of our land.'

[Footnote 1: i.e. in Prussian Poland. One of the Polish people's grievances is that the large properties are not sold direct to them but to the colonists, and the peasants have to buy the land from them. Statistics show that in spite of the great activity of the German Colonization Commission more and more land is constantly acquired by the Polish peasants, who hold on to the land tenaciously.]

'One of your lot is always after me to sell him my land,' said Slimak.

'To think of such a thing!' interposed his wife. 'Who is he?'

'How should I know? there are two of them, and they came twice, an old man and one with a beard. They want my hill to put up a windmill, they say.'

'That's Hamer,' said the girl under her breath to her father.

'Oh, Hamer,' repeated the invalid, 'he has caused us difficulties enough. Our people wanted to go to the other side of the Bug, where land only costs thirty roubles an acre, but he persuaded them to come here, because they are building a railway across the valley. So our people have been buying land here at seventy roubles an acre and have been running into debt with the Jew, and we shall see what comes of it.'

The girl meanwhile had been eating coarse bread, sharing it with the dog. She now looked across to where the colonists were spreading themselves over the fields.

'We must go, father,' she said.

'Yes, we must go; what do I owe you for the milk, gospodarz?'

The peasant shrugged his shoulders.

'If we were obliged to take money for a little thing like that, I shouldn't have asked you.'

'Well, God repay you!'

'God speed you,' said Slimak and his wife.

'Strange folk, those Germans,' he said, when they had slowly moved off. 'He is a clever man, yet he goes about in that little cart like an old beggar.'

'And the girl!' said Slimakowa, 'whoever heard of dragging an old man about, as if you were a horse.'

'They're not bad,' said Slimak, returning to his cottage.

The conversation with the Germans had reassured him that they were not as terrible as he had fancied.

When Maciek went out after breakfast to plough the potato-fields, Slimak slipped off.

'You've got to put up the fence!' his wife called out after him.

'That won't run away,' he answered, and banged the door, fearful lest his wife should detain him.

He crouched as he ran through the yard, wishing to attract her attention as little as possible, and went stealthily up the hill to where Maciek was perspiring over his ploughing.

'How about those Swabians?' asked the labourer.

Slimak sat down on the slope so that he could not be seen from the cottage, and pulled out his pipe.

'You might sit over there,' Maciek said, pointing with his whip to a raised place; 'then I could smell the smoke.'

'What's the good of the smoke to you? I'll give you my pipe to finish, and meanwhile it does not grieve the old woman to see me sitting here wasting my time.' He lit his pipe very deliberately, rested his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands and looked into the valley, watching the crowd of Germans.

With their covered carts they had enclosed a square into which they had driven their cattle and horses; inside and outside of this the people were bustling about. Some put a portable manger on a stand and fed the cows, others ran to the river with buckets. The women brought out their saucepans and little sacks of vegetables and a crowd of children ran down the ravine for fuel.

'What crowds of children they have!' said Slimak; 'we have not as many in the whole village.'

'Thick as lice,' said Maciek.

Slimak could not wonder enough. Yesterday the field had been empty and quiet, to-day it was like a fair. People by the river, people in the ravines, people on the fields, who chop the bushes, carry wood, make fires, feed and water the animals! One man had already opened a retail-shop on a cart and was obviously doing good business. The women were pressing round him, buying salt, sugar, vinegar. Some young mothers had made cradles of shawls, suspended on short pitchforks, and
while they were cooking with one hand they rocked the cradle with the other. There was a veterinary surgeon, too, who examined the foot of a lame horse, and a barber was shaving an old Swabian on the step of his cart.

'Do you notice how quickly they work? It's farther for them to fetch the firewood than for us, yet we take half the day over it and they do it before you can say two prayers.'

'Oh! oh!' said Maciek, who seemed to feel this remark as an aspersion.

'But, then, they work together, 'continued Slimak; 'when our people go out in a crowd every one attends to his own business, and rests when he likes or gets into the way of the others. But these dogs work together as if they were used to each other; if one of them were to lie down on the ground the others would cram work into his hand and stand over him till he had finished it. Watch them yourself.'

He gave his pipe to Maciek and returned to the cottage.

'They are quick folk, those Swabians,' he muttered, 'and clever!' Within half an hour he had discovered the two secrets of modern work: organization and speed.

About noon two colonists came to the gospodarstwo and asked Slimak to sell them butter and potatoes and hay. He let them have the former without bargaining, but he refused the hay.

'Let us at least have a cartload of straw,' they asked with their foreign accent.

'I won't. I haven't got any.'

The men got angry.

'That scoundrel Hamer is giving us no end of trouble,' one cried, dashing his cap on the ground; 'he told us we should get fodder and everything at the farms. We can't get any at the manor either; the Jews from the inn are there and won't stir from the place.'

Just as they were leaving, a brichka drove up containing the two Hamers, whose faces were now quite familiar to Slimak. The colonists rushed to the vehicle with shouts and explanations, gesticulating wildly, pointing hither and thither, and talking in turns, for even in their excitement they seemed to preserve system and order.

The Hamers remained perfectly calm, listening patiently and attentively, until the others were tired of shouting. When they had finished, the younger man answered them at some length, and at last they shook hands and the colonists took up their sacks of potatoes and departed cheerfully.

'How are you, gospodarz?' called the elder man to Slimak. 'Shall we come to terms yet?'

'What's the use of talking, father?' said the other; 'he will come to us of his own accord!'

'Never!' cried Slimak, and added under his breath: 'They are dead set on me--the vermin! Queer folk!' he observed to his wife, looking after the departing brichka, 'when our people are quarrelling, they don't stop to listen, but these seem to understand each other all the same and to smooth things over.'

'What are you always cracking up the Swabians for, you old silly?' returned his wife. 'You don't seem to remember that they want to take your land away from you.... I can't make you out!'

'What can they do to me? I won't let them have it, and they can't rob me.'

'Who knows? They are many, and you are only one.'

'That's God's will! I can see they have more sense than I have, but when it comes to holding on, there I can match them! Look at all the woodpeckers on that little tree; that tree is like us peasants. The squire sits and hammers, the parish sits and hammers, the Jews and the Germans sit and hammer, yet in the end they all fly away and the tree is still the tree.'

The evening brought a visit from old Sobieska, who stumbled in with her demand of a 'thimbleful of whisky'.

'I nearly gave up the ghost,' she cried, 'I've run so fast to tell you the news.'

She was rewarded with a thimble which a giant could well have worn on his finger.

'Oh, Lord!' she cried, when she had drained it, 'this is the judgment day for some people in the village! You see, Gryb and Orzchewski had always taken for granted that the colonists wouldn't come, and they had meant to drive a little bargain between them and keep some of the best land and settle Jasiek Gryb on it like a nobleman, and he was to marry Orzchewski's Paulinka. You know, she had learnt embroidery from the squire's wife, and Jasiek had been doing work in the bailiff's office and now goes about in an overcoat on high-days and holidays and...give me another thimbleful, or I shall feel faint and can't talk.... Meanwhile, as I told you, the colonists had paid down half the money to the Jew, and here they are, that's certain! When Gryb hears of it, he comes and abuses Josel! "You cur of a Jew, you Caiaphas, you have crucified Christ and now you are cheating me! You told me the Germans wouldn't pay up, and here they are!" Whereupon Josel says: "We don't know yet whether they will stay!" At first Gryb wouldn't listen and shouted and banged his fists on the table, but at last Josel drew him off to his room with Orzchewski, and they made some arrangement among themselves.'

'He's a fool,' said Slimak; 'he wasn't cute enough to buy the land, he won't be able to cope with the Germans.'

'Not cute enough?' cried the old woman. 'Give me a thimbleful...Josel's clever enough, anyway...and his brother-in-law is even better...they'll deal with the Swabians...I know what I know...give me a thimbleful...give me a thim...' She became incoherent.

'What was that she was saying?' asked Slimakowa.

'The usual things she says when she's tipsy. She is in service with Josel, so she thinks him almighty.'

When night came, Slimak again went to look at the camp. The people had retired under their awnings, the cattle were lying down inside the square, only the horses were grazing in the fields and ravines. At times a flame from the camp fires flared up, or a horse neighed; from hour to hour the call of a sleepy watchman was heard.

Slimak returned and threw himself on his bed, but could find no rest. The darkness deprived him of energy, and he thought with fear of the Germans who were so many and he but one. Might they not attack him or set his house on fire?

About midnight a shot rang out, followed by another. He ran into the back-yard and came upon the equally frightened Maciek. Shouts, curses, and the clatter of horses' hoofs came from beyond the river. Gradually the noise subsided.

Slimak learned in the morning from the colonists that horse-thieves had stolen in among the horses.

The peasant was taken aback. Never before had such a thing happened in the neighbourhood.

The news of the attack spread like wildfire and was improved upon in every village. It was said that there was a gang of horse-stealers about, who removed the horses to Prussia; that the Germans had fought with them all night, and that some had been killed.

At last these rumours reached the ears of the police-sergeant, who harnessed his fat mare, put a small cask and some empty bags into his cart, and drove off in pursuit of the thieves.

The Germans treated him to smoked ham and excellent brandy, and Fritz Hamer explained that they suspected two discharged manor-servants, Kuba Sukiennik and Jasiek Eogacz, of stealing the horses.

'They have been arrested before for stealing locks off the doors, but had to be released because there were no witnesses,' said the sergeant. 'Which of the gentlemen shot at them? Has he a licence to carry firearms?'

Hamer, seeing that the question was becoming ticklish, led him aside and explained things so satisfactorily to him that he soon drove off, recommending that watch should be kept, and that the colonists should not carry firearms.

'I suppose your farm will soon be standing, sir?' he asked.

'In a month's time,' replied Hamer.

'Capital!...we must make a day of it!'

He drove on to the manor-house, where Hirschgold's agent was so delighted to see him that he brought out a bottle of Crimean wine. On the topic of thieves, however, he had no explanation to offer.

'When I heard them shooting I at once snatched up my revolvers, one in each hand, and I didn't close my eyes all night.'

'And have you a licence to carry firearms?'

'Why shouldn't I?'

'For two?'

'Oh well, the second is broken; I only keep it for show.'

'How many workmen do you employ?'

'About a hundred.'

'Are all their passports in order?'

The agent gave him a most satisfactory account as to this in his own way and the sergeant took leave.

'Be careful, sir,' he recommended, 'once robbery begins in the village it will be difficult to stop it. And in case of accident you will do well to let me know first before you do anything.' He said this so impressively that the agent henceforward took the two Jews from the manor-house to sleep in the bailiff's cottage.

Slimak's gospodarstwo was the sergeant's next destination. Slimakowa was just pouring out the peeled barley soup when the stout administrator of the law entered.

'The Lord be praised,' he said. 'What news?'

'In Eternity. We are all right.'

The sergeant looked round.

'Is your husband at home?'

'Where else should he be? Fetch your father, Jendrek.'

'Beautiful barley; is it your own?'

'Of course it is.'

'You might give me a sackful. I'll pay you next time I come.'

'I'll get the bag at once, sir.'

'Perhaps you can sell me a chicken as well?'

'We can.'

'Mind it's tender, and put it under the box.'

Slimak came in. 'Have you heard, gospodarz, who it was that tried to steal the horses?'

'How should I know?'

'They say in the village that it was Sukiennik and Rogacz.'

'I don't know about that. I have heard they cannot find work here, because they have been in prison.'

'Have you got any vodka? The dust makes one's throat dry.'

Vodka and bread and cheese were brought.

'You'd better be careful,' he said, when he departed, 'for they will either rob you or suspect you.'

'By God's grace no one has ever robbed me, and it will never happen.'

The sergeant went to Josel, who received him enthusiastically. He invited him into the parlour and assured him that all his licences were in order.

'There is no signboard at the gate.'

'I'll put one up at once of whatever kind you like,' said the innkeeper obsequiously, and ordered a bottle of porter.

The sergeant now opened the question of the night-attack.

'What night-attack?' jeered Josel. 'The Germans shot at one another and then got frightened and made out that there was a gang of robbers about. Such things don't happen here.'

The sergeant wiped his moustache. 'All the same Sukiennik and Rogacz have been after the horses.'

Josel made a wry face. 'How could they, when they were in my house that night.'

'In your house?'

'To be sure,' Josel answered carelessly. 'Gryb and Orzchewski both saw them...dead drunk they were. What are they to do? they can't get regular work, and what a man perchance earns in a day he likes to drink
away at night.'

'They might have got out.'

'They might, but the stable was locked and the key with the foreman.' The conversation passed on to other topics.

'Look after Sukiennik and Rogacz,' the sergeant said, on his departure, when he and his mare had been sufficiently rested.

'Am I their father, or are they in my service?'

'They might rob you.'

'Oh! I'll see to that all right!'

The sergeant returned home, half asleep, half awake. Sukiennik and Rogacz kept passing before his vision; they had their hands full of locks and were surrounded by horses. Josel's smiling face was hovering over them and now and then old Gryb and his son Jasiek jeered from behind a cloud. He sat up...startled. But there was nothing near him except the white hen under the box and the trees by the wayside. He spat.

'Bah...dreams!' he muttered.

The peasants were relieved when day after day passed and there was no sign of building in the camp. They jumped to the conclusion that either the Germans had not been able to come to terms with Hirschgold, or had
quarrelled with the Hamers, or that they had lost heart because of the horse-thieves.

'Why, they haven't so much as measured out the ground!' cried Orzchewski, and washed down the remark with a huge glass of beer.

He had, however, not yet wiped his mouth when a cart pulled up at the inn and the surveyor alighted. They knew him directly by his moustaches, which were trimmed to the resemblance of eels, and by his sloeberry coloured nose.

While Gryb and Orzchewski sorrowfully conducted each other home, they comforted themselves with the thought that the surveyor might only be spending the night in the village on his way elsewhere.

'God grant it, I want to see that young scamp of a Jasiek settled and married, and if I let him out of my sight he goes to the dogs directly.'

'My Paulinka is a match for him; she'll look after him!'

'You don't know what you're talking of, neighbour; it will take the three of us to look after him. Lately he hasn't spent a single night at home, and sometimes I don't see him for a week.'

The surveyor started work in the manor-fields the next morning, and for several days was seen walking about with a crowd of Germans in attendance on all his orders, carrying his poles, putting up a portable table, providing him with an umbrella or a place in the shade where he could take long pulls out of his wicker flask. The peasants stood silently watching them.

'I could measure as well as that if I drank as much as he does,' said one of them.

'Ah, but that is why he is a surveyor,' said another, 'because he has a strong head.'

No sooner had he departed than the Germans drove off and returned with heavy cartloads of building materials. One fine day a small troop of masons and carpenters appeared with their implements. A party of
colonists went out to meet them, followed by a large crowd of women and children. They met at an appointed place, where refreshments and a barrel of beer had been provided.

Old Hamer, in a faded drill-jacket, Fritz in a black coat, and Wilhelm, adorned with a scarlet waistcoat with red flowers, were busy welcoming the guests; Wilhelm had charge of the barrel of beer.

Maciek had noticed these preparations and gave the alarm, and all the inhabitants of the gospodarstwo watched the proceedings with the keenest interest. They saw old Hamer taking up a stake and driving it
into the ground with a wooden hammer.

'Hoch!...Hoch!' shouted the workmen. Hamer bowed, took a second stake and carried it northwards, accompanied by the crowd. The women and children were headed by the schoolmaster in his little cart. He now lifted his cap high into the air, and at this sign the whole crowd started to sing Luther's hymn:

 'A stronghold sure our God remains,
 A shield and hope unfailing,
 In need His help our freedom gains,
 O'er all our fear prevailing;
 Our old malignant foe
 Would fain work us woe;
 With craft and great might
 He doth against us fight,
 On earth is no one like him.'

At the first note Slimak had taken off his cap, his wife crossed herself, and Maciek stepped aside and knelt down. Stasiek, with wide-open eyes, began to tremble, and Jendrek started running down the hill, waded through the river, and headed at full speed for the camp.

While Hamer was driving the stake into the ground the procession, slowly coming up to him, continued:

 'Our utmost might is all in vain,
 We straight had been rejected,
 But for us fights the perfect Man
 By God Himself elected;
 Ye ask: Who may He be?
 The Lord Christ is He!
 The God, by hosts ador'd,
 Our great Incarnate Lord,
 Who all His foes will vanquish.'

Never had the peasants heard a hymn like this, so solemn, yet so triumphant, they who only knew their plainsongs, which rose to heaven like a great groan: 'Lord, we lay our guilt before Thine eyes.'

A cry from Stasiek roused the parents from their reverie.

'Mother...mother...they are singing!' stammered the child; his lips became blue, and he fell to the ground.

The frightened parents lifted him up and carried him into the cottage, where he recovered when the singing ceased. They had always known that the singing at church affected him very deeply, but they had never seen
him like this.

Jendrek, meanwhile, although wet through and cold, stood riveted by the spectacle he was watching. Why were these people walking and singing like this? Surely, they wanted to drive away some evil power from their
future dwellings, and, not having incense or blessed chalk, they were using stakes. Well, after all, a club of oakwood was better against the devil than chalk! Or were they themselves bewitching the place?

He was struck with the difference in the behaviour of the Germans. The old men, women, and children were walking along solemnly, singing, but the young fellows and the workmen stood in groups, smoking and
laughing. Once they made a noisy interruption when Wilhelm Hamer, who presided at the beer-barrel, lifted up his glass. The young men shouted 'Hoch! hurrah!' Old Hamer looked round disapprovingly, and the
schoolmaster shook his fist.

As the procession drew near, Jendrek heard a woman's voice above the children's shrill trebles, Hamer's guttural bass and the old people's nasal tones; it was clear, full, and inexpressively moving. It made his
heart tremble within him. The sounds shaped themselves in his imagination to the picture of a beautiful weeping-willow.

He knew that it must be the voice of the schoolmaster's daughter, whom he had seen before. At that time the dog had engaged his attention more than the girl, but now her voice took entire possession of the boy's
soul, to the exclusion of everything else he heard or saw. He, too,
wanted to sing, and began under his breath:

 'The Lord is ris'n to-day.
 The Lord Jesus Christ...'

It seemed to fit in with the melody which the Germans were just singing.

He was roused from this state by the young men's voices; he caught sight of the schoolmaster's daughter and unconsciously moved towards her. But the young man soon brought him to his senses. They pulled his hat over his ears, pushed him into the middle of the crowd, and, wet, smeared with sand, looking more like a scarecrow than a boy, he was passed from hand to hand like a ball. Suddenly his eyes met those of the girl, and a wild spirit awoke in him. He kicked one young man over with his bare legs, tore the shirt off another one's back, butted old Hamer in the stomach, and then stood with clenched fists in the space he had cleared, looking where he might break through. Most of the men laughed at him, but some were for handling him roughly. Fortunately old Hamer recognized him.

'Why, youngster, what are you up to?'

'They're bullying me,' he said, while the tears were rising in his throat.

'Don't you come from that cottage? What are you doing here?'

'I wanted to listen to your singing, but those scoundrels...'

He stopped suddenly when he saw the grey eyes of the schoolmaster's daughter fixed on him. She offered him the glass of beer she had been drinking from.

'You are wet through,' she said. 'Take a good pull.'

'I don't want it,' said the boy, and felt ashamed directly; it did not seem well-mannered to speak rudely to one so beautiful.

'I might get tipsy...' he cried, but drained the glass, looked at her again and blushed so deeply that the girl smiled sadly as she looked at him.

At that moment violins and cellos struck up; Wilhelm Hamer came heavily bounding along and took the girl away to dance. Her yearning eyes once more rested on Jendrek's face.

He felt that something strange was happening to him. A terrible anger and sorrow gripped him by the throat; he wanted to throw himself on Wilhelm and tear his flowered waistcoat off his back; at the same time he wanted to cry aloud. Suddenly he turned to go.

'Are you going?' asked the schoolmaster. 'Give my compliments to your father.'

'And you can tell him from me that I have rented the field by the river from Midsummer Day,' Hamer called after him.

'But dad rented it from the squire!' Hamer laughed...'The squire! We are the squires now, and the field is mine.'

As Jendrek neared the road he came upon a peasant, hidden behind a bush, who had been watching. It was Gryb.

'Be praised,' said Jendrek.

'Who's praised at your place?' growled the old man; 'it must be the devil and not the Lord, since you are taking up with the Germans.'

'Who's taking up with them?'

The peasant's eyes flashed and his dry skin quivered.

'You're taking up with them!' he cried, shaking his fist, 'or perhaps I didn't see you running off to them like a dog through the water to cadge for a glass of beer, nor your father and mother on the hill praying with the Swabians...praying to the devil! God has punished them already, for something has fallen on Stasiek. There will be more to come...you wait!'

Jendrek slowly walked home, puzzled and sad. When he returned to the cottage, he found Stasiek lying ill. He told his father what Gryb had said.

'He's an old fool,' replied Slimak. 'What! should a man stand like a beast when others are praying, even if they are Swabians?'

'But their praying has bewitched Stasiek.' Slimak looked gloomy.

'Why should it have been their prayers? Stasiek is easily upset. Let a woman but sing in the fields and he'll begin to shake all over.'

The matter ended there. Jendrek tried to busy himself about the cottage, but he felt stifled indoors. He roamed about in the ravines, stood on the hill and watched the Germans, or forced his way through brambles. Wherever he went, the image of the schoolmaster's daughter went with him; he saw her tanned face, grey eyes, and graceful movements. Sometimes her powerful, entrancing voice seemed to come to him as from a depth.

'Has she cast a spell over me?' he whispered, frightened, and continued to think of her.

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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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