with drab, melancholy
stubble fields; the bushes in the ravines turned red; the storks
left the barns and flew south; in the few woods that remained, the
were silent, human beings had deserted the fields; only here and there
some old German women in blue petticoats were digging up the last
Even the navvies had left, the embankment was finished, and they had
all over the world. Their place was taken by a light railway bringing
and sleepers. At first you were only aware of smoke in the distant
in a few days' time you discovered a chimney, and presently found that
that chimney was fixed to a large cauldron which rolled along without
dragging after it a dozen wagons full of wood and iron. Whenever it
men jumped out and laid down the wood, fastened the iron to it and
off again. These were the proceedings which Maciek was watching daily.
clever that is,'
he said to Slimak; 'they can get their load uphill without horses. Why
should we worry the beasts?'
the cauldron came
to a dead stop where the embankment ended by the ravines and the men
taken out and disposed of the load, 'Now, what will they do?' he
To the farm
astonishment the cauldron gave a shrill whistle and moved backwards
it was! Had not
the Galician harvesters told him of an engine that went by itself? Had
they not drunk through his money with which he was to buy boots?
sure, they told me
true, it goes by itself; but it creeps like old Sobieska,' he added, to
comfort himself. Yet, deep down in his heart he was afraid of this new
contrivance and felt that it boded no good to the neighbourhood. And
he reasoned inconsequently he was right, for with the appearance of the
railway engines there also came much thieving. From pots and pans,
on the fences, to horses in the stables, nothing was safe. The Germans
had their bacon stolen from the larder; the gospodarz Marcinezak, who
rather tipsy from absolution, was attacked by men with blackened faces
and thrown out of his cart, with which the robbers drove off at
speed. Even the poor tailor Niedoperz, when crossing a wood, was
of the three roubles he had earned with so much labour.
no luck either. It became increasingly difficult to buy fodder for the
animals, and no one now asked him to sell his produce. The salted
and other produce of which he had laid in a stock, went bad, and they
to eat the fowls themselves. The Germans did all the trading with the
men, and even in the little town no one looked at the peasant's produce.
sat in his room
and did no work. Where should he find work? He sat by the stove and
Would things continue like this? Would there always be too little hay?
Would no one buy from him? Would there be no end to the thieving? What
was not under lock and key in the farm-buildings was no longer safe.
the Germans drove
about for miles in all directions and sold all that they produced.
again somehow,' he answered.
poor Stasiek was
forgotten. Sometimes his mother laid one spoon too many, and then wiped
her eyes with her kerchief, sometimes Magda thoughtlessly called
by his brother's name or the dog would run round the buildings looking
for some one, and then lay down barking, with his head on the ground.
all this happened more and
since his brother's death; he did not like to sit indoors when there
nothing to do, and roamed about. His rambles frequently ended in a
to the schoolmaster; out of curiosity he examined the books, and as he
knew some of the letters, the schoolmaster's daughter amused herself by
teaching him to spell. The boy would purposely stumble over his words
that she should correct him and touch his shoulder to point out the
One day he
took home a book
to show what he had learnt, and his overjoyed mother sent the
daughter a couple of fowls and four dozen eggs. Slimak promised the
five roubles when Jendrek would be able to pray from a book and ten
when he should have learnt to write. Jendrek was therefore more and
often at the settlement, either busy with his lessons or else watching
the girl through the window and listening to her voice. But this
to annoy one of the young Germans, who was a relation of the Hamers.
Jendrek's behaviour would have attracted his parents' attention, but
were entirely engrossed in another subject. Every day convinced them
firmly of the fact that they had too little fodder and a cow too many.
They did not say so to each other, but no one in the house thought of
else. The gospodyni thought of it when she saw the milk get less in the
pails, Magda had forebodings and caressed the cows in turns, Maciek,
of a handful of hay, and Slimak would stand in front of the cowshed and
It was he
himself who one
night broke this tacit understanding of silence on the sad question
was becoming a crisis; he suddenly awoke, sprang up and sat down on the
edge of the bed.
asked his wife.
we had no fodder left and all the cows had died.'
name of the Father
and the Son...may you not have spoken that in an evil hour!'
not enough fodder
for five tails...it's no good pretending.'
then, what will you
'How do I
one of them...'
finished the husband.
Slimak went to
the inn he gave Josel a hint, who passed it on at once to two butchers
in the little town.
came to the cottage,
Slimakowa refused to speak to them and Magda began to cry. Slimak took
them to the yard.
is it, gospodarz,
you want to sell a cow?'
'How can I
is it? Let's see
Maciek had to take up the conversation.
'If one is
to be sold, it
may as well be Lysa.'
out,' urged the
cow into the yard; she seemed astonished at being taken out at such an
butchers looked her over,
chattered in Yiddish and asked the price.
'How do I
know?' Slimak said,
good of talking
like that, you know as well as we do that she's an old beast. We will
you fifteen roubles.'
relapsed into silence,
and Maciek had to do the bargaining; after much shouting and pulling
of the cow, they agreed on eighteen roubles. A rope was laid on her
and the stick about her shoulders, and they started.
would not go; first she turned back to the cowshed and was dragged
the highroad, then she lowed so miserably that Maciek went pale and
was heard to sob loudly: the gospodyni would not look out of the window.
finally planted herself
firmly on the ground with her four feet rigidly fixed, and looked at
with rolling eyes as if to say: 'Look, gospodarz, what they are doing
me...for six years I have been with you and have honestly done my duty,
stand by me now.'
not move, and
the cow at last allowed herself to be led away, but when she had been
along for a little distance, he slowly followed. He pressed the Jews'
in his hand and thought:
'Ought I to
have sold you?
I should never have done it if the merciful God had not been angry with
us; but we might all starve.'
still, leant against
the railings and turned all his misfortunes over in his mind; now and
the thought that he might still run and buy her back stole into his
old Hamer had come close up to him.
coming to see me,
gospodarz?' he asked.
if you will sell
won't help you. A
peasant among settlers will always be at a disadvantage,' said the old
man, with his pipe between his teeth. 'Sell me your land; I'll give you
a hundred roubles an acre.'
shook his head. 'You
are mad, Pan Hamer, I don't know what you mean. Isn't it enough that I
am obliged to sell the beast? Now you want me to sell everything. If
want me to leave, carry me out into the churchyard. It is nothing to
Germans to move from place to place, you are a roving people and have
country, but a peasant is like a stone by the wayside. I know
here by heart. I have moved every clod of earth with my own hands; now
you say: sell and go
Wherever I went
I should be dazed and lost; when I looked at a bush I should say: that
did not grow at home; the soil would be different and even the sun
not set in the same place. And what should I tell my father if he were
to come looking for me when it gets too hot for him in Purgatory? He
ask me how I was to find his grave again, and Stasiek's, poor Stasiek
has laid down his head, thanks to you!'
rubbish the man is
talking!' he cried, 'have not numbers of peasants settled afresh in
His father will come looking for him! ...You had better look out that
don't go to Purgatory soon yourself for your obstinacy, and ruin me
the bargain. You are ruining my son now, because I can't build him a
Here I am offering you a hundred roubles an acre, confound it all!'
you like, but I
won't sell you my land.'
sell it all right,'
said Hamer, shaking his fist, 'but I shan't buy it; you won't last out
a year among us.'
don't want that lad
to stroll in and out of the settlement,' he called back, 'I don't keep
a schoolmaster here for you!'
nothing to me; he
needn't go if you grudge him the room.'
grudge him the room,'
the old man retorted viciously, 'the father is a dolt, let the son be a
regret for the cow
was drowned in his anger. 'All right, let them cut her throat,' he
but remembering that the poor beast could not help his quarrel with
at home; Magda was blubbering because she had been given notice. Slimak
sat down on the bench and listened to his wife comforting the girl.
we are not short
of food,' she said, 'but how am I to get the money for your wages? You
are a big girl and ought to have a rise after the New Year. We haven't
enough work for you; go to your uncle at once, tell him how things are
going from bad to worse here, and fall at his feet and ask him to find
you another place. Please God, you will come back to us.' 'Ho,'
Maciek from his corner, 'there's no returning; when you're gone, you're
gone; first the cow, then Magda, now my turn will come.'
Maciek, you will
stay,' said Slimakowa, 'there must be some one to look after the
and if we don't give you your wages one year, you'll get them the next,
but we can't do that to Magda, she is young.'
true,' said Maciek
on reflection, 'and it's kind of you to think of the girl first.'
his wife's good sense, but at the same time he felt acute regret and
at all these changes; everything had been going on harmoniously for
and now one day sufficed to send both the cow and Magda away.
I do?' he ruminated,
'shall I try to set up as a carpenter, or shall I apply to his
for advice? I might ask him at the same time to say a Mass, but maybe
would say the Mass and not give the advice. It will all come right; God
strikes until His hand is tired; then He looks down in favour again on
those who suffer patiently.' So he waited.
found another situation
by November; her place in the gospodarstwo soon grew cold, no one
or talked of her, and only the gospodyni asked herself sometimes: 'Were
there really a Stasiek in this room once and a Magda pottering about,
three cows in the shed?'
the thieving increased.
Slimak daily thought of putting bolts and padlocks on the
or at least long poles in front of the stable door. But whenever he
for the hatchet, it always lay too far off, or his arm was too short;
he left it, and the thought of buying padlocks when times were hard,
him feel quite faint. He hid the money at the bottom of the chest so
it should not tempt him. 'I must wait till the spring,' he thought;
all, there are Maciek and Burek, they are sharp enough.'
confirmed this opinion
by much howling.
dark night, when
sleet was falling, Maciek heard him barking more furiously than usual,
and attacking some one in the direction of the ravines. He jumped up
waked Slimak; armed with hatchets they waited in the yard. A heavy
approached behind the barn as of some one carrying a load. 'At them!'
urged Burek, who, feeling himself backed up, attacked furiously.
go for them?' asked
hesitated. 'I don't
know how many there are.'
moment a light flashed
up from the settlement, horses clattered. Seeing that help was
Slimak dashed behind the barn and called out: 'Hey there! who are you?'
heavy fell to the
the Swabians, you shall soon know who we are!' answered a voice in the
him!' cried Slimak
and Maciek simultaneously, but the thief had escaped to the ravines.
the Germans on horseback came up, Slimak lit a torch and ran behind the
barn. A pig's carcass lay in a puddle.
hog,' cried Fritz,
'they stole it from under our noses and while there was a light in the
you the truth,'
laughed Earner's farmhand, 'we thought it was you who had done it.'
'Go to the
after them,' Fritz
I... steal your hog!
'Let me go,
indoors! We've saved
them a hog and the thieves will revenge themselves on us; and here they
come and accuse me of being a thief myself.' Fritz Hamer swore at the
for his clumsiness and tried to pacify the peasant, but he turned his
on him. Fritz had lost his zeal for pursuing the thieves, took up his
and disappeared into the darkness.
After a few
days the police-sergeant
drove up, cross-examined every one, explored the ravines, perspired,
himself muddy, and found no one. He came to the very just conclusion
the thieves must have escaped long ago. So he told Slimakowa to put
butter and a speckled hen into his cart and returned home.
thieving stopped for
a while, and winter came on. The ground was warmly covered as with a
ice as hard as flint froze on the Bialka, the Lord wrapped the branches
of the trees securely in shirts of snow. But Slimak was still
on hasps and bolts.
evening, as he sat filling
the room with smoke from his pipe, shifting his feet and arriving at
second part of his meditations, namely that 'What is done too soon is
devil's,' Jendrek excitedly burst into the room. His mother was busy
the fire and paid no attention to him, but his father noticed, although
they were sparing of light in the cottage, that his sukmana was torn
he looked bruised and dishevelled. Looking at him out of the corner of
his eyes, Slimak
pipe and said:
'Someone has been oxing your ears three times over.'
'I gave him
said the boy scowling.
mother had gone out
and did not hear the conversation, the father did not hurry himself; he
cleaned his choked pipe, blew through it and indifferently inquired,
been treating you this?'
The boy was hitching up his shoulders as if he had been stung.
were you doing
at Earner's when you had been told not to go there?'
looking at the schoolmaster
through the window,' said Jendrek blushing, and added quickly, 'That
dog ran out from the kitchen and shouted: "You are spying about here,
thief!" "What have I stolen?" I say, and he: "Nothing yet, but you will
steal some day; be off, or I'll box your ears." "Try!" I say. "I've
before," says he; "take this!"'
smart of the Swabian,'
said Slimak, 'and did you do nothing to him?'
I do nothing
to him? I snatched up a log and hit him over the head two or three
but the coward started bleeding and gave in; I should have liked to
given him more, but they came running out of their houses and I made
didn't catch you?'
can they catch
me, when I run like a hare?' 'Confound the boy,' said his mother, who
come in, 'the Swabians will beat him small.'
always give them
the slip,' said Slimak, lit his pipe, and resumed his meditations on
the next afternoon by a visit from the Hamers; their cousin, Hermann,
his head so tightly bandaged that hardly anything was visible of his
They stood outside the gate and shouted to Maciek to call his master.
hastily fastened his belt and stepped out. 'What do you want?' he said.
going to the police-station
to take out a summons against that Jendrek of yours; look what he has
to Hermann; we have a certificate from the surgeon that his injuries
ogling the schoolmaster's
daughter, now he shall ogle his prison bars,' Hermann added thickly
to be ashamed
of yourselves,' he said, 'to take out a summons for a bit of boy's
didn't Hermann box his ears too? But we don't take out summonses for
sort of thing.'
rather! I gave it him,'
mumbled Hermann, 'but where's the blood? where's the doctor's
nice one,' said
Slimak bitterly, 'there was no policeman to certify that it was we who
saved you the hog, but when a boy plays a prank on you, you go to law.'
with you a hog means
as much as a man,' sneered Fritz; 'with us it is different.'
turned from bolts and padlocks to prisons. He talked the matter over
put our small
Jendrek in Court by the side of that big Hermann, I reckon they won't
much to him.'
nothing to him,'
agreed the labourer.
same, I should like
to know what the punishment is for thrashing a man.'
heads much about it. When Potocka beat her neighbour over the head with
a saucepan, they just fined her.'
true, but I am afraid
they think more of the Germans than of our people.'
they think more
he talks to Hamer as he wouldn't even talk to Gryb.'
so, but when he
has looked round to see that no one is listening, he tells you that a
is a mangy dog. You see, the Germans have their Kaiser, but he's
like as great as our Czar; I have it from a soldier who was in the
and he used to say: "Bah, he's nothing compared to ours!"'
greatly reassured Slimak,
and he went to church with his wife and son the next Sunday to find out
what others, familiar with the ways of the law, thought of the matter.
Maciek remained at home to look after the dinner and the baby.
It was past
noon when Burek
began to bark furiously. Maciek looked out and saw a man dressed like
townspeople standing at the gate; he had pulled his cap well over his
The farm-labourer went outside.
on us, gospodarz,'
said the stranger, 'our sledge has broken down close by, and I can't
it, because they have stolen the hatchet out of my basket last night.'
looked doubtful. 'Have
you come far?'
miles; my wife
and I are driving twelve miles further. I will give you good vodka and
sausages if you will help us.'
when vodka was mentioned. He shook his head and crossed himself, but
decided that one must help one's neighbour, fetched the hatchet and
out with the stranger.
He found a
standing near the farm. A woman, even more smartly dressed than the
sat huddled up in a corner; she blessed Maciek in a tearful voice, but
her husband did more, he poured out a large tumblerful of vodka and
it to the labourer, drinking to his health first. Maciek apologized, as
the ceremony demanded, then took a long pull, till the tears came into
his eyes. He set about mending the sledge, and although it was a small
job and did not take
him more than
half an hour,
the strangers thanked him extravagantly, the woman gave him half a
and some roast pork, and the man exclaimed: 'I have travelled far and
but I have never found a more obliging peasant than you are, brother. I
should like to leave you a remembrance. Have you got a bottle?'
'I think I
could find one,'
said Maciek, in a voice trembling with delight. The man unceremoniously
pushed his wife on one side and drew a large bottle from underneath the
'We are off
now,' he said,
'we will go to the gospodarstwo and you shall give me some nails in
of another breakdown, and I will leave you some of this cordial in
Mind, if your head or your stomach aches or you are worried and can't
take a glassful of this: all your worries will at once disappear. Take
good care of it and don't on any account give a drop away, it's a
my grandfather got it from the monks at Radecznica, it's as good as
into the house,
the stranger remained in the yard, looking carelessly round the
while Burek barked madly at him. At any other time the dog's anger
have roused Maciek's suspicion, but how could one think anything but
of a guest who had already given vodka and sausages and who was
more drink? He smilingly offered a big-bellied bottle to the traveller,
who poured half a pint of the cordial into it, and when he took leave
repeated the warning that it should be used only in case of need.
stuffed a piece of
rag into the neck of the bottle and hid it in the stable. He felt a
desire to taste the drink, if only a drop, but he resisted.
I were to get
ill... better keep it.'
the baby to sleep
and then woke her up again to tell her about the hospital and his
leg, about the travellers who had left him such a magnificent present,
but nothing could take his thoughts away from the monks' cordial. The
bottle seemed to hover over the pots and pans on the stove, it
out of the wall, it almost tapped at the window, but Maciek blinked his
eyes and thought: 'Leave me alone, you will come in useful some day!'
before sunset he
heard cheerful singing in the road, and. quickly stepping outside, he
the gospodarz and his family returning from church. They were
against the red sky in the white landscape. Jendrek, his head in the
and his arms crossed behind his back, was walking on the left side of
road, the gospodyni in her blue Sunday skirt, and her jacket
so that her white chemise and bare chest were showing, on the right.
gospodarz, his cap awry, and holding up nis sukmana as for a dance,
from right to left and from left to right, singing. The labourer
not because they were drunk, but because it pleased him to see them
know, Maciek,' cried
Slimak from afar, 'do you know the Swabians can't hurt us!'
He ran up
full tilt and supported
himself on Maciek's neck.
know,' cried the
gospodyni, coming up,'we have seen Jasiek Gryb who knows all about the
law; we told him about Jendrek's giving it to Hermann, and he swore by
a happy death that the Court would let Jendrek off; Jasiek has been
for these tricks himself, he knows.'
try and put me
in prison!' shouted Jendrek.
It was in
this frame of mind
that they sat down, but somehow the dinner was not a success. Slimakowa
poured most of the sauerkraut over the table, the gospodarz had no
and Jendrek had forgotten how to hold a spoon, scalded his father's
with soup and finally fell asleep. His parents followed his example, so
Maciek was left to himself again. The big-bellied bottle started
him immediately. It availed nothing that he busied himself with the
and the wick of the flickering lamp. The snoring around him disposed
to sleep and the smell of vodka that had been introduced into the room
filled him with longing. In vain he tried to keep off the thoughts that
circled like moths round the light. When he forgot his misery at the
he thought of the forlornness of the abandoned baby, and when he put
aside his own needs overwhelmed him again. 'It's no use,' he muttered,
'I must go to bed.'
the child in the
sheepskin and went into the stable. He lay down on the straw, the
of the horses tempered the cold, and Maciek closed his eyes, but sleep
would not come; it was too early yet.
turned from side to
side, his hand came in contact with the bottle; he pushed it away; but,
violating the law of inertia, it thrust itself irresistibly into his
the rag remained between his fingers, and when he mechanically lifted
to his eyes in the half-light, the strange vessel leapt to his lips of
its own accord. Before he was conscious of what he was doing, Maciek
pulled a long draft of the health-giving speciality. He gulped it down
and pulled a wry
drink was not
only strong, it was nauseous; it simply tasted like ordinary medicine.
'Well, that wasn't worth longing for!' he thought, as he stuffed up the
neck of the bottle again. He resolved to be more temperate in future
a liquor which was not distinguished for a good taste.
a prayer and
felt warm and calm. He remembered the home-coming of the gospodarz's
they all stood before his eyes as if they were alive. Suddenly Slimak
Jendrek vanished and only Slimakowa remained near him in her unbuttoned
jacket which exposed rows of corals and her bare white chest. He closed
his eyelids and pressed them with his fingers, so as not to look, but
he saw her, smiling at him in a strange way. He hid his head in the
was in vain; the woman stood there and smiled in a way that sent the
through his veins. His heart beat violently; he turned his head to the
wall and, terror-stricken, heard her voice whispering close to him:
'Where am I
to move to?'
A warm hand
seemed to embrace
mattress began to
ascend with him, he flew... flew. God I was he falling or being lifted
into the air? he felt as light as a feather, as smoke. He opened his
for a moment and saw stars glittering in a dark sky over a snowy
How could he be seeing the sky? No... he must have made a mistake;
was surrounding him again. He wanted to move, but could not; besides,
should he move, when he felt so extraordinarily comfortable? there was
not a thing in the world that it would be worth while moving a finger
nothing but sleep mattered, sleep without awakening. He sighed heavily
and slept and slept.
of pain woke
Maciek from a dreamless sleep which must have lasted about ten hours.
felt himself violently shaken, kicked in the ribs and on the head,
by his arms and legs.
you thief... get
up!' a voice was shouting at him.
He tried to
get up, but turned
over on the other side instead. The blows and tugs recommenced, and the
voice, choked with rage, continued:
'Get up! I
wish the holy
earth had never carried you!'
Maciek roused himself
and sat up; the light hurt his eyes, his head felt heavy like a rock;
he closed his eyes again, supported his head and tried to think;
he received a blow in the face from a fist. When at last he opened his
eyes, he saw that it was Slimak who was standing over him, mad with
you hitting me
for?' he asked in amazement.
the horses, you
thief?' shouted Slimak.
suddenly seized with
sickness. Coming to himself a little, he looked round. Yes, something
to be missing from the stable; he wiped his forehead, looked again...
stable was empty.
are the horses?'
cried Slimak, 'where
your brothers have taken them, you thief.' The labourer held out his
took them out. I
haven't stirred from here all night, something must have happened... I
staggered up and had to
that? You are trying
to make out that you have lost your wits. You know quite well that the
horses have been stolen. Whoever stolethem must have opened the door
led them over you.'
me! no one opened
the door, no one led them over me,' cried Maciek, bursting into sobs.
is lying dead
behind the fence,' cried Jendrek, who came running up with his mother.
said the woman, 'the foam has frozen on his mouth.'
down in the open
door, unable to stand any longer.
has got him too,
he isn't like himself, something has fallen on him,' said Slimak.
'And may he
keep it till
he dies,'cried the woman, 'here he is sleeping in the stable and lets
horses be stolen. May the ground spit him out!'
looking for a
stone, but his parents, taking notice of the man's deathly pallor and
sunken eyes for the first time, restrained him.
him too,' whispered Slimakowa.
shrugged his shoulders,
not knowing what to make of it.
He began to
Had anything happened in his absence?
but concealing nothing, Maciek told his story.
they gave me some
filthy stuff, and then they made off with the horses,' he added,
of taking pity
on him, Slimak burst out afresh:
took drink from
strangers and never told me anything about it?'
I have bothered
you, gospodarz, when you were a little bit screwed yourself?'
that to do with you?'
bawled Slimak, 'dogs have no right to notice whether one is drunk or
they have to be all the more watchful when one is! You are a thief like
the others, only you are worse. I took you in when you were starving,
you've robbed me in return.'
like that,' groaned
Maciek, crawling to Slimak's feet, 'I have saved a few roubles from my
wages, and there is my little chest and a bit of sheepskin and my
take it all, but don't say I robbed you. Your dog has not been more
and they have poisoned him too.'
bother me,' cried
Slimak, thrusting him aside, 'the fellow offers me his wages and his
when the horses were worth twenty-eight roubles.
roubles the whole year. If you were my own son I wouldn't let you off;
neither of the boys have ever cost me as much.'
overcame him, he
beat himself with his clenched fists.
horses,' he cried,
'or I will give you in charge, go where you like, look where you like,
but don't show your face here without them or one of us will die! I
you. Take that bastard or we will let it starve, and be off!'
find the horses,'
said Maciek, and drew his old sheepskin round him with trembling hands;
'perhaps God will help me.'
will help you,
you low scoundrel,' said Slimak, and turned
your box,' added
paid us out for our
kindness,' whimpered Slimakowa, wiping her eyes. They went into the
Not one of
them had a kind
glance to spare for Maciek, although he was leaving them forever.
painfully he wrapped
the child up in an old bit of a shirt and a shawl, fastened his belt
himself and looked for a stick.
was aching as if
he were going through a severe illness; he was unable to reason out the
situation. He felt no resentment towards Slimak for having beaten him
driven him away; the gospodarz was in the right, of course; neither was
he afraid of having no roof over his head; people like him never had
roof of their own; he was not thinking of the future. Another thought
torturing him...the horses. For Slimak the horses were part of his
machinery, for Maciek they were friends and brothers. Who but they in
whole world had longed for him, had greeted him heartily when he
or looked after him when he went out? No one but Wojtek and Kasztan.
years they had shared hardships together. Now they were gone, perhaps
away into misery, through his, Maciek's, fault.
he heard them
neighing. They were becoming sensible of what was happening to them and
were calling to him for help!
coming, I am coming,'
he muttered, took the child on his arm, seized the stick and limped
He did not look round, he would see the gospodarstwo again when he came
back with the horses.
Burek lying stark
behind the barn, but he had no thought to spare for him; he peered for
the traces of the horses' feet. There they were, stamped into the snow
as into wax; Kasztan's large feet and the broken hoof of Wojtek; here
thieves had mounted and ridden off at a slow trot. How bold, how sure
themselves they had been! But Maciek will find you! The peasant rancour
in him had been awakened. If you escape to the end of the world he will
pursue you; if you dig
into the ground
he will dig you out with his hands; if you escape to Heaven he will
at the gate and importune the saints until they fly all over the
and give him back the horses!
highroad the tracks
became less distinct, but they were still recognizable. Maciek could
the whole history of the peregrination in them. Here Kasztan had been
and had shied; here the thief had dismounted and altered Wojtek's
What gentlemen they were, these thieves, they came stealing in new
such as no gentleman need have been ashamed of!
church the tracks
became confused and, what was worse, divided. Kasztan had been ridden
the right and Wojtek to the left. After reflecting for a moment, Maciek
followed the latter track, possibly because it was clearer, but most
because he loved that little horse the best. About noon he found
near the village where Magda's uncle, the Soltys Grochowski, lived. He
turned in there, hoping for a bite of food; he was hungry and the
girl was crying.
was at home and
in the middle of receiving a sound rating from his wife for no
reason but just for the pleasure of it. The huge man was sitting on the
bench by the wall, with one arm on the table and the other on the
listening with an expression of fixed attention to his wife's homilies;
this attention was, however, assumed, for whenever she buried her head
among the pots and pans on the stove he yawned and stretched himself,
a face as if the conversation had long been distasteful to him.
As his wife
was in the habit
of relenting before strangers, so as not to prejudice his office,
hailed Maciek's arrival gladly, and ordered food for him and milk for
little girl, adding cold meat and vodka to the repast when he heard the
news that Slimak's horses had been stolen and that Maciek was applying
to him for advice. He even talked of drawing up a statement, but the
implements were not at hand. So he drew Maciek into the alcove for a
whispered conversation, the upshot of which was that they must proceed
with caution upon the track of the thieves, as certain strong
tied Grochowski's hands until he had clearer evidence. Maciek was also
given to understand why Jasiek Gryb had entertained the gospodarz and
family so liberally, and Grochowski even seemed to know the man who
the monks' cordial and said that the woman in the sledge was not a
'I will do
whatever you tell
me, Soltys,' said Maciek, embracing his knees, 'even if you should send
me to my death.'
'It is no
use tracking near
here,' said the Soltys, 'we know all about that, but it would be useful
to know where the other track leads to. Follow that as far as you can,
and if you find any clue let me know at once. You ought to be back here
we find the horses?'
find them even
if we had to drag them out of the thieves' bowels,' said the Soltys,
about two o'clock
when Maciek was ready to start. The Soltys hinted that the child had
be left behind, but his wife was so angry at the suggestion that he
So Maciek tied her up again in the old bits of clothing and went his
tracks on the highroad and followed them for an hour, when he thought
he must be nearing the thieves' quarters, for the tracks had been
up, and finally led into the ravines. The frost was pinching harder and
harder, but the breathless man scarcely noticed the cold. From time to
time clouds flew over the sky and snow drifted along the ground in
Maciek searched all the more eagerly, so as not to miss the track
it should be covered with fresh drifts. On and on he walked, never even
noticing that darkness was coming on and the snow was falling faster.
then he would sit
down for a moment, too tired to go on, but he jumped up again, for he
he heard Kasztan neighing. Probably it was his aching head that
these sounds, but at last they became so loud that he left the track
cut right across the hill in the direction from which they seemed to
With his last remaining
the bushes, fell, scrambled to his feet, and continued. Then the
ceased and he found that he was in the ravines, knee-deep in snow, and
difficulty he dragged
himself on to a knoll to see where he was. He could see nothing but
to the right and to the left, here and there intercepted by bushes, the
last streak of light had faded from the sky.
He tried to
descend; in one
place the slope was too steep, in another there were too many bushes;
last he decided on an easier place and put his stick forward; it gave
and he fell after it for several yards. It was fortunate that the snow
lay waist-deep in this spot.
frightened child began
its low sobbing, it had always been too weak to cry heartily. Fear was
knocking at Maciek's heart.
can't have lost
my way?' he thought, 'these are our ravines that I know so well, yet I
don't see my way out of them.'
alternately in low and deep snow, until he came upon a place that had
trodden down recently. He knelt down and felt the tracks with his
They were his own footprints.
I've been going
round in a circle,' he muttered, and tried another corridor of ravines
which presently led him to the place where he had slid down the hill.
fancied he heard murmurings overhead and looked up, but it was only the
rustling of the bushes. The wind had sprung up on the hillside and was
driving before it clouds of fine snow which stung his face and hands
'Can it be
that my hour has
come?' he thought; 'No, no,' he whispered, 'not till I have found the
else they will take me for a thief.' He wrapped the child more closely
in the coverings; she had fallen asleep in spite of shaking and
he walked about aimlessly, so as to keep moving.
'I won't be
a fool and sit
down,' he muttered, 'if I sit down I shall be frozen, and the thieves
keep the horses.'
snow fell faster
and faster, whitening Maciek from head to foot; the wind swept along
top of the hills, and as he listened to it, the man was glad that he
not been caught in the open.
warm here,' he
said, 'but all the same I'm not going to sit down, I must keep on
till the morning.'
But it was
not yet midnight
and Maciek's legs began to refuse obedience, he could no longer push
the snow with his feet; he stopped and stamped, but that was even more
tiring; he leant against the sides of the little cavity. The spot was
it was raised above the ravine, and the little hollow was just large
to hold a man; bushes sheltered it against the snow on all sides. But
crowning advantage was a jutting piece of rock, about the size of a
won't sit down,' he
determined, 'I know I should get frozen.... It's true,' he added after
a while, 'it would not do to go to sleep, but it can't hurt to sit down
for a bit.'
sat down, drew
his cap over his ears and the clothes round the sleeping child, and
that he would alternately rest and stamp, and so await the morning.
'So long as
I don't go to
sleep,' he kept on reminding himself. He fancied the air was getting a
little warmer and his feet were thawing.
Instead of the
cold he felt
ants creeping under the soles of his feet. They crept in among his
swarmed over his injured leg, then over the other, and reached his
In a mysterious way one had suddenly settled on his nose; he wanted to
flick it off, but a whole swarm was sitting on his arms. He decided not
to drive them away, for in the
they were keeping
him awake, and then he rather liked them. He smiled, as one reached his
waist, and did not ask how they came to be there. It was not surprising
that there should be ant-hills in the
he forgot that
it was winter.
'So long as
I don't go to
sleep...so long as I don't go to sleep....' But at last he asked
'Why am I not to go to sleep? It's night and I am in the stable? The
might be coming, that's it!'
his stick more
firmly; whispers seemed to be stirring all round.
are opening the
stable door, there is the snow, this time I will give it to them....'
must have found
out that he was on the watch this time and made off. Maciek laughed;
he could go to sleep. He straightened his back, pressed the little girl
he reminded himself, 'I've something to do, but what is it? Ploughing?
no, that's done. Water the horses.. the horses....'
midnight the moon dispersed
the clouds and the new moon peeped out and looked straight into the
face: but the man did not move. Fresh clouds came up and hid the moon,
yet he did not move. He sat in the hollow of the hill, his head leaning
against its side, the child clasped to his breast.
At last the
sun rose, but
even then he did not move. He seemed to be gazing in astonishment at
railway line, not more than twenty steps away from his resting place.
The sun was
high when a signalman
came along the permanent way. He caught sight of the sleeper and
but there was no answer, and the man approached.
father! have you been
drinking?' he called out, as he went round the hollow at a distance. At
last, hardly believing his eyes, he went up to the silent sitter and
and the child's
faces were hard, as if they had been cast in wax, hoarfrost lay on his
lashes, and frozen moisture stood on the child's lips. The signalman's
arms dropped in astonishment; he wanted to call for help, but
that no one would hear him. He turned and ran at full speed to the
course of an hour
or two a sledge with some men arrived to remove the bodies. But
was frozen so hard that it was impossible to open his arms or
his legs, so they put him in the sledge as he was. He went for his last
drive with the child on his knees, his head resting against the rail,
his face turned upwards, as though he had done with human reckoning and
was recounting his wrongs to his Creator.
stopped, a small crowd of peasants, women, and Jews gathered in front
the Wojt's office. The Wojt, his clerk, and Grochowski were standing
A shudder of remorse seized the latter, he guessed who the man and
were that had been found, frozen to death. He explained to the crowd
Maciek had told him.
When he had
men turned away, the women groaned, the Jews spat on the ground; only
the son of the rich peasant Gryb, lighted an expensive cigar and
He put his hands in the pockets of his sheepskin coat, stuck out first
one foot, then the other, to display his elegant top-boots that reached
above his knees, sucked his cigar, and continued to smile. The men
at him with aversion, but the women, although shocked, did not think
repulsive. Was he not a
lad, with a complexion like milk and blood, and eyes the colour of a
and did he not trim his moustaches and beard like a nobleman? It was a
pity he was not a foreman with plenty of opportunities of ordering the
girls about! The men, however, were whispering among themselves that he
was a scoundrel who would come to a bad end.
it was wrong of
Slimak to send the poor wretch away in such weather,' said the Wojt.
'It was a
natural he should
be angry when his horses had been stolen,' said one of the men.
him away did not
bring the horses back, and he will have the two poor souls on his
till he dies,' cried an old woman.
was seized with
'It was not
so much that
Slimak drove him away, but that he himself was anxious to go,' he said
quickly, 'he wanted to track the thieves;' here he gave a quick glance
at Jasiek, who returned it insolently, and observed that horse-thieves
were sharp, and more people might meet their death in tracking them.
find that there
is a limit to it,' said Grochowski.
policeman now proceeded
to examine the corpses, and the Wojt was standing by with a wry face,
if he had bitten on a peppercorn.
drive them to the
district police-court,' he said; 'Stojka,' turning to the owner of the
sledge, 'drive on, we will overtake you presently. This is the first
that any one in this parish has ever been frozen to death.'
demurred and scratched
his head, but he took up the reins and lashed the horses; after all, it
was only a few versts, and one need not look much at the passengers. He
walked by the side of the sledge and Grochowski and a man who was to
closer acquaintance with the police-court, for spoiling his neighbour's
bucket, went with him.
happened that, just
as the Wojt was dispatching the bodies to the police-court, the police
officer was sending 'Silly Zoska' back to her native village. A few
after leaving her child in Maciek's care she had been arrested; the
was unknown to her. As a matter of fact she had been accused of
vagrancy, and attempted arson. After the discovery of each new crime,
had taken her from police-station to prison, from prison to infirmary,
from infirmary to another
prison, and so
on for a
Zoska had behaved with complete indifference; when she was taken to a
place she would worry at first whether she would find work. After that
she became apathetic and slept the greater part of the time, on her
bed, or waiting in corridors and prison-yards. It was all the same to
At times she began to long for freedom and her child, and then she fell
into accesses of fury. Now they were sending her back under escort of
peasants; one carried
relating to her
case, and the other had come to keep him company. She had a boot on one
foot and a sandal on the other, a sukmana in holes, and a handkerchief
like a sieve on her head. She walked quickly in front of the men, as if
she were in a hurry to get back, yet neither the familiar neighbourhood
nor the hard frost seemed to make any impression on her. When the men
out: 'Heh! not so fast!' she stood as still as a post, and waited till
they told her to go on.
quite daft!' said
always been like that,'
said the other, who had known her a long time, 'yet she's not bad at
versts from the village,
where the chimneys peeped out from beyond the snowy hills, they came
the little cortège. The attendants, noticing something unusual
the look of it, stopped and talked to the Soltys.
Zoska,' said the latter
to the woman who was standing by indifferently, 'that is your little
approached without seeming
to understand; slowly, however, her face acquired a human expression.
fallen upon them?'
they been frozen?'
drove them out of
drove them out of
the house?' she repeated, fingering the bodies, 'yes, that's my little
girl, she's grown a bit; whoever heard of a child being frozen to
she was meant to come to a bad end. As God loves me, yes, that's my
my little girl--they've murdered her; look at her!' she suddenly became
said the Soltys,
'we must be getting on.'
tried to get into the sledge.
you doing?' cried
her attendants, pulling her back.
cried Zoska, holding on.
she is yours?' said
the Soltys, 'there's one road for you and another for her.'
little girl, mine!'
With both hands the woman held on to the sledge, but the peasant
up the horses and she fell to the ground; she grasped the runners and
dragged along for several yards.
behave like a lunatic,'
cried the men, detaching her with difficulty from the fast-moving
she would have run after it, but one of them knelt on her feet and the
other held her by the shoulders.
little girl; Slimak
has let her freeze to death.... God punish him, may he freeze to death
himself!' she screamed.
as the sledge
moved away, she calmed down, her livid face assumed its copper colour,
and her eyes became dull. She fell back into her old apathy.
forgotten all about
it,' said one of her companions.
lunatics are often
happier than other people,' answered the friend. Then they walked on in
silence. Nothing was heard but the creaking snow under their feet.