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The Outpost 

by Boleslaw Prus (Aleksander Glowacki)

Autumn came with drab, melancholy stubble fields; the bushes in the ravines turned red; the storks hastily left the barns and flew south; in the few woods that remained, the birds were silent, human beings had deserted the fields; only here and there some old German women in blue petticoats were digging up the last potatoes. Even the navvies had left, the embankment was finished, and they had dispersed all over the world. Their place was taken by a light railway bringing rails and sleepers. At first you were only aware of smoke in the distant west; 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 horses, dragging after it a dozen wagons full of wood and iron. Whenever it stopped men jumped out and laid down the wood, fastened the iron to it and drove off again. These were the proceedings which Maciek was watching daily.

'Look, how clever that is,' he said to Slimak; 'they can get their load uphill without horses. Why should we worry the beasts?'

But when the cauldron came to a dead stop where the embankment ended by the ravines and the men had taken out and disposed of the load, 'Now, what will they do?' he thought.

To the farm labourer's utter astonishment the cauldron gave a shrill whistle and moved backwards with its wagons.

Yes, there 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?

'To be 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 though he reasoned inconsequently he was right, for with the appearance of the railway engines there also came much thieving. From pots and pans, drying on the fences, to horses in the stables, nothing was safe. The Germans had their bacon stolen from the larder; the gospodarz Marcinezak, who returned rather tipsy from absolution, was attacked by men with blackened faces and thrown out of his cart, with which the robbers drove off at breakneck speed. Even the poor tailor Niedoperz, when crossing a wood, was relieved of the three roubles he had earned with so much labour.

The railway brought Slimak 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 butter, and other produce of which he had laid in a stock, went bad, and they had to eat the fowls themselves. The Germans did all the trading with the railway men, and even in the little town no one looked at the peasant's produce.

So Slimak sat in his room and did no work. Where should he find work? He sat by the stove and pondered. 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.

Meanwhile the Germans drove about for miles in all directions and sold all that they produced.

'Things are going badly,' said Slimakowa.

'Eh...they'll get straight again somehow,' he answered.

Gradually poor Stasiek was forgotten. Sometimes his mother laid one spoon too many, and then wiped her eyes with her kerchief, sometimes Magda thoughtlessly called Jendrek 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. But all this happened more and
more rarely.

Jendrek had been restless since his brother's death; he did not like to sit indoors when there was nothing to do, and roamed about. His rambles frequently ended in a visit 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 so that she should correct him and touch his shoulder to point out the mistake.

One day he took home a book to show what he had learnt, and his overjoyed mother sent the schoolmaster's daughter a couple of fowls and four dozen eggs. Slimak promised the schoolmaster five roubles when Jendrek would be able to pray from a book and ten more when he should have learnt to write. Jendrek was therefore more and more often at the settlement, either busy with his lessons or else watching the girl through the window and listening to her voice. But this happened to annoy one of the young Germans, who was a relation of the Hamers.

Under ordinary circumstances Jendrek's behaviour would have attracted his parents' attention, but they were entirely engrossed in another subject. Every day convinced them more 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 anything 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, when unobserved,
even deprived the horses of a handful of hay, and Slimak would stand in front of the cowshed and sigh.

It was he himself who one night broke this tacit understanding of silence on the sad question which was becoming a crisis; he suddenly awoke, sprang up and sat down on the edge of the bed.

'What's the matter, Josef?' asked his wife.

'Oh...I was dreaming that we had no fodder left and all the cows had died.'

'In the name of the Father and the Son...may you not have spoken that in an evil hour!'

'There is not enough fodder for five tails...it's no good pretending.'

'Well, then, what will you do?'

'How do I know?'

'Perhaps one could...'

'Maybe sell one of them...' finished the husband.

The word had fallen.

Next time Slimak went to the inn he gave Josel a hint, who passed it on at once to two butchers in the little town.

When they came to the cottage, Slimakowa refused to speak to them and Magda began to cry. Slimak took them to the yard.

'Well, how is it, gospodarz, you want to sell a cow?'

'How can I tell?'

'Which one is it? Let's see her.'

Slimak said nothing, and Maciek had to take up the conversation.

'If one is to be sold, it may as well be Lysa.'

'Lead her out,' urged the butchers.

Maciek led the unfortunate cow into the yard; she seemed astonished at being taken out at such an unusual hour.

The butchers looked her over, chattered in Yiddish and asked the price.

'How do I know?' Slimak said, still irresolute.

'What's the good of talking like that, you know as well as we do that she's an old beast. We will give you fifteen roubles.'

Slimak relapsed into silence, and Maciek had to do the bargaining; after much shouting and pulling about of the cow, they agreed on eighteen roubles. A rope was laid on her horns and the stick about her shoulders, and they started.

The cow, scenting mischief, would not go; first she turned back to the cowshed and was dragged towards the highroad, then she lowed so miserably that Maciek went pale and Magda was heard to sob loudly: the gospodyni would not look out of the window.

The cow finally planted herself firmly on the ground with her four feet rigidly fixed, and looked at Slimak with rolling eyes as if to say: 'Look, gospodarz, what they are doing to me...for six years I have been with you and have honestly done my duty, stand by me now.'

Slimak did not move, and the cow at last allowed herself to be led away, but when she had been plodding along for a little distance, he slowly followed. He pressed the Jews' money 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.'

He stood still, leant against the railings and turned all his misfortunes over in his mind; now and then the thought that he might still run and buy her back stole into his mind.

He suddenly noticed that old Hamer had come close up to him.

'Are you coming to see me, gospodarz?' he asked.

'I'll come, if you will sell me fodder.'

'Fodder 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.'

Slimak 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 you want me to leave, carry me out into the churchyard. It is nothing to you Germans to move from place to place, you are a roving people and have no country, but a peasant is like a stone by the wayside. I know everything here by heart. I have moved every clod of earth with my own hands; now you say: sell and go
elsewhere. 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 would 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 would ask me how I was to find his grave again, and Stasiek's, poor Stasiek who has laid down his head, thanks to you!'

Hamer was trembling with rage.

'What rubbish the man is talking!' he cried, 'have not numbers of peasants settled afresh in Volhynia? His father will come looking for him! ...You had better look out that you don't go to Purgatory soon yourself for your obstinacy, and ruin me into the bargain. You are ruining my son now, because I can't build him a windmill. Here I am offering you a hundred roubles an acre, confound it all!'

'Say what you like, but I won't sell you my land.'

'You'll sell it all right,' said Hamer, shaking his fist, 'but I shan't buy it; you won't last out a year among us.'

He turned away abruptly.

'And I 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!'

'That's nothing to me; he needn't go if you grudge him the room.'

'Yes, I grudge him the room,' the old man retorted viciously, 'the father is a dolt, let the son be a dolt too.'

Slimak's regret for the cow was drowned in his anger. 'All right, let them cut her throat,' he thought, but remembering that the poor beast could not help his quarrel with Hamer, he sighed.

There were fresh lamentations 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.

'It's true, 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,' murmured 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.'

'Oh, you, Maciek, you will stay,' said Slimakowa, 'there must be some one to look after the horses, 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.'

'That's true,' said Maciek on reflection, 'and it's kind of you to think of the girl first.'

Slimak was silently admiring his wife's good sense, but at the same time he felt acute regret and apprehension at all these changes; everything had been going on harmoniously for years, and now one day sufficed to send both the cow and Magda away.

'What shall I do?' he ruminated, 'shall I try to set up as a carpenter, or shall I apply to his Reverence for advice? I might ask him at the same time to say a Mass, but maybe he 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.

Magda had found another situation by November; her place in the gospodarstwo soon grew cold, no one thought 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, and three cows in the shed?'

Meanwhile the thieving increased. Slimak daily thought of putting bolts and padlocks on the farm-buildings, or at least long poles in front of the stable door. But whenever he reached for the hatchet, it always lay too far off, or his arm was too short; anyhow he left it, and the thought of buying padlocks when times were hard, made him feel quite faint. He hid the money at the bottom of the chest so that it should not tempt him. 'I must wait till the spring,' he thought; 'after all, there are Maciek and Burek, they are sharp enough.'

Burek confirmed this opinion by much howling.

One very 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 and waked Slimak; armed with hatchets they waited in the yard. A heavy tread approached behind the barn as of some one carrying a load. 'At them!' they urged Burek, who, feeling himself backed up, attacked furiously.

'Shall we go for them?' asked Maciek.

Slimak hesitated. 'I don't know how many there are.'

At that moment a light flashed up from the settlement, horses clattered. Seeing that help was approaching, Slimak dashed behind the barn and called out: 'Hey there! who are you?'

Something heavy fell to the ground.

'You wait! policeman for the Swabians, you shall soon know who we are!' answered a voice in the darkness.

'Catch him!' cried Slimak and Maciek simultaneously, but the thief had escaped to the ravines. When the Germans on horseback came up, Slimak lit a torch and ran behind the barn. A pig's carcass lay in a puddle.

'That's our hog,' cried Fritz, 'they stole it from under our noses and while there was a light in the house.'

'Daredevils!' muttered Maciek.

'To tell you the truth,' laughed Earner's farmhand, 'we thought it was you who had done it.'

'Go to the devil!'

'Let's go after them,' Fritz interrupted quickly.

'Go on! I... steal your hog! indeed!'

'Let me go, father,' begged Jendrek.

'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 farm-hand for his clumsiness and tried to pacify the peasant, but he turned his back on him. Fritz had lost his zeal for pursuing the thieves, took up his hog and disappeared into the darkness.

After a few days the police-sergeant drove up, cross-examined every one, explored the ravines, perspired, made himself muddy, and found no one. He came to the very just conclusion that the thieves must have escaped long ago. So he told Slimakowa to put some butter and a speckled hen into his cart and returned home.

The thieving stopped for a while, and winter came on. The ground was warmly covered as with a sheepskin; 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 meditating on hasps and bolts.

One evening, as he sat filling the room with smoke from his pipe, shifting his feet and arriving at the second part of his meditations, namely that 'What is done too soon is the devil's,' Jendrek excitedly burst into the room. His mother was busy with 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 and he looked bruised and dishevelled. Looking at him out of the corner of his eyes, Slimak
emptied his pipe and said: 'Someone has been oxing your ears three times over.'

'I gave him one better,' said the boy scowling.

As the 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, 'Who's been treating you this?'

'That scoundrel, Hermann.' The boy was hitching up his shoulders as if he had been stung.

'And what were you doing at Earner's when you had been told not to go there?'

'I was looking at the schoolmaster through the window,' said Jendrek blushing, and added quickly, 'That German dog ran out from the kitchen and shouted: "You are spying about here, you 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 tried before," says he; "take this!"'

'That was smart of the Swabian,' said Slimak, 'and did you do nothing to him?'

'Why should I do nothing to him? I snatched up a log and hit him over the head two or three times, but the coward started bleeding and gave in; I should have liked to have given him more, but they came running out of their houses and I made off.'

'So they didn't catch you?'

'Bah, how can they catch me, when I run like a hare?' 'Confound the boy,' said his mother, who had come in, 'the Swabians will beat him small.'

'He can always give them the slip,' said Slimak, lit his pipe, and resumed his meditations on hasps and bolts.

But these were interrupted the next afternoon by a visit from the Hamers; their cousin, Hermann, had his head so tightly bandaged that hardly anything was visible of his face. They stood outside the gate and shouted to Maciek to call his master. Slimak hastily fastened his belt and stepped out. 'What do you want?' he said.

'We are going to the police-station to take out a summons against that Jendrek of yours; look what he has done to Hermann; we have a certificate from the surgeon that his injuries are serious.'

'He came ogling the schoolmaster's daughter, now he shall ogle his prison bars,' Hermann added thickly behind his bandages.

Slimak was getting worried.

'You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,' he said, 'to take out a summons for a bit of boy's nonsense; didn't Hermann box his ears too? But we don't take out summonses for that sort of thing.'

'Oh, rather! I gave it him,' mumbled Hermann, 'but where's the blood? where's the doctor's certificate?'

'You're a 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.'

'Perhaps with you a hog means as much as a man,' sneered Fritz; 'with us it is different.'

Slimak's meditations now turned from bolts and padlocks to prisons. He talked the matter over with Maciek.

'When they put our small Jendrek in Court by the side of that big Hermann, I reckon they won't do much to him.'

'They'll do nothing to him,' agreed the labourer.

'All the same, I should like to know what the punishment is for thrashing a man.'

'They don't trouble their heads much about it. When Potocka beat her neighbour over the head with a saucepan, they just fined her.'

'That's true, but I am afraid they think more of the Germans than of our people.'

'How could they think more of unbelievers?'

'Look at the police-sergeant, he talks to Hamer as he wouldn't even talk to Gryb.'

'That is so, but when he has looked round to see that no one is listening, he tells you that a German is a mangy dog. You see, the Germans have their Kaiser, but he's nothing like as great as our Czar; I have it from a soldier who was in the hospital, and he used to say: "Bah, he's nothing compared to ours!"'

This 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 the townspeople standing at the gate; he had pulled his cap well over his face. The farm-labourer went outside.

'What's up?'

'Take pity on us, gospodarz,' said the stranger, 'our sledge has broken down close by, and I can't mend it, because they have stolen the hatchet out of my basket last night.'

Maciek looked doubtful. 'Have you come far?'

'Twenty-five miles; my wife and I are driving twelve miles further. I will give you good vodka and sausages if you will help us.'

Maciek's suspicions lessened when vodka was mentioned. He shook his head and crossed himself, but ultimately decided that one must help one's neighbour, fetched the hatchet and went out with the stranger.

He found a one-horse sledge standing near the farm. A woman, even more smartly dressed than the man, 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 offered 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 sausage and some roast pork, and the man exclaimed: 'I have travelled far and wide, 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 seat.

'We are off now,' he said, 'we will go to the gospodarstwo and you shall give me some nails in case of another breakdown, and I will leave you some of this cordial in return. Mind, if your head or your stomach aches or you are worried and can't sleep, 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 speciality; my grandfather got it from the monks at Radecznica, it's as good as holy water.'

Maciek went into the house, the stranger remained in the yard, looking carelessly round the buildings, while Burek barked madly at him. At any other time the dog's anger would have roused Maciek's suspicion, but how could one think anything but well of a guest who had already given vodka and sausages and who was offering 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 he repeated the warning that it should be used only in case of need.

Maciek stuffed a piece of rag into the neck of the bottle and hid it in the stable. He felt a strong desire to taste the drink, if only a drop, but he resisted.

'Supposing I were to get ill... better keep it.'

He rocked the baby to sleep and then woke her up again to tell her about the hospital and his broken leg, about the travellers who had left him such a magnificent present, but nothing could take his thoughts away from the monks' cordial. The big-bellied bottle seemed to hover over the pots and pans on the stove, it blossomed 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!'

Shortly before sunset he heard cheerful singing in the road, and. quickly stepping outside, he saw the gospodarz and his family returning from church. They were silhouetted against the red sky in the white landscape. Jendrek, his head in the air and his arms crossed behind his back, was walking on the left side of the road, the gospodyni in her blue Sunday skirt, and her jacket unbuttoned, so that her white chemise and bare chest were showing, on the right. The gospodarz, his cap awry, and holding up nis sukmana as for a dance, lurched from right to left and from left to right, singing. The labourer laughed, not because they were drunk, but because it pleased him to see them enjoying themselves.

'Do you 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.

'Do you 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 tried for these tricks himself, he knows.'

'Let them 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 appetite, and Jendrek had forgotten how to hold a spoon, scalded his father's foot with soup and finally fell asleep. His parents followed his example, so Maciek was left to himself again. The big-bellied bottle started pursuing him immediately. It availed nothing that he busied himself with the fire and the wick of the flickering lamp. The snoring around him disposed him 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 hospital, he thought of the forlornness of the abandoned baby, and when he put that aside his own needs overwhelmed him again. 'It's no use,' he muttered, 'I must go to bed.'

He wrapped the child in the sheepskin and went into the stable. He lay down on the straw, the warmth of the horses tempered the cold, and Maciek closed his eyes, but sleep would not come; it was too early yet.

As he 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 hand; the rag remained between his fingers, and when he mechanically lifted it 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 had pulled a long draft of the health-giving speciality. He gulped it down and pulled a wry
face. The 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 with a liquor which was not distinguished for a good taste.

Maciek said a prayer and felt warm and calm. He remembered the home-coming of the gospodarz's family: they all stood before his eyes as if they were alive. Suddenly Slimak and 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 still he saw her, smiling at him in a strange way. He hid his head in the sheepskin--it was in vain; the woman stood there and smiled in a way that sent the fever through his veins. His heart beat violently; he turned his head to the wall and, terror-stricken, heard her voice whispering close to him:
'Move up!'

'Where am I to move to?' groaned Maciek.

A warm hand seemed to embrace his neck.

Then his 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 eyes for a moment and saw stars glittering in a dark sky over a snowy landscape. How could he be seeing the sky? No... he must have made a mistake; darkness was surrounding him again. He wanted to move, but could not; besides, why 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 for, nothing but sleep mattered, sleep without awakening. He sighed heavily and slept and slept.

A sensation of pain woke Maciek from a dreamless sleep which must have lasted about ten hours. He felt himself violently shaken, kicked in the ribs and on the head, tugged by his arms and legs.

'Get up, 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!'

At last Maciek roused himself and sat up; the light hurt his eyes, his head felt heavy like a rock; so he closed his eyes again, supported his head and tried to think; immediately 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 rage.

'What are you hitting me for?' he asked in amazement.

'Where are the horses, you thief?' shouted Slimak.

'Horses? what horses?'

He was suddenly seized with sickness. Coming to himself a little, he looked round. Yes, something seemed to be missing from the stable; he wiped his forehead, looked again... the stable was empty.

'But where are the horses?' he asked.

'Where?' cried Slimak, 'where your brothers have taken them, you thief.' The labourer held out his hands.

'I never took them out. I haven't stirred from here all night, something must have happened... I am ill.'

He staggered up and had to support himself.

'What is 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 and led them over you.'

'God help me! no one opened the door, no one led them over me,' cried Maciek, bursting into sobs.

'Dad! Burek is lying dead behind the fence,' cried Jendrek, who came running up with his mother.

'They have poisoned him,' said the woman, 'the foam has frozen on his mouth.'

Maciek sank down in the open door, unable to stand any longer.

'The devil 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 the horses be stolen. May the ground spit him out!'

Jendrek was looking for a stone, but his parents, taking notice of the man's deathly pallor and his sunken eyes for the first time, restrained him.

'Maybe they have poisoned him too,' whispered Slimakowa.

Slimak shrugged his shoulders, not knowing what to make of it.

He began to question Maciek: Had anything happened in his absence?

Slowly and with difficulty, but concealing nothing, Maciek told his story.

'Of course they gave me some filthy stuff, and then they made off with the horses,' he added, sobbing.

But instead of taking pity on him, Slimak burst out afresh:

'What? you took drink from strangers and never told me anything about it?'

'Why should I have bothered you, gospodarz, when you were a little bit screwed yourself?'

'What's that to do with you?' bawled Slimak, 'dogs have no right to notice whether one is drunk or not, 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, and you've robbed me in return.'

'Don't talk 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 sukmana; take it all, but don't say I robbed you. Your dog has not been more faithful, and they have poisoned him too.'

'Don't bother me,' cried Slimak, thrusting him aside, 'the fellow offers me his wages and his box when the horses were worth twenty-eight roubles.

I haven't taken twenty-eight 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.'

His anger overcame him, he beat himself with his clenched fists.

'Find the 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 loathe you. Take that bastard or we will let it starve, and be off!'

'I will find the horses,' said Maciek, and drew his old sheepskin round him with trembling hands; 'perhaps God will help me.'

'The devil will help you, you low scoundrel,' said Slimak, and turned

'And leave your box,' added Jendrek.

'He has paid us out for our kindness,' whimpered Slimakowa, wiping her eyes. They went into the house.

Not one of them had a kind glance to spare for Maciek, although he was leaving them forever.

Slowly and painfully he wrapped the child up in an old bit of a shirt and a shawl, fastened his belt round himself and looked for a stick.

His head 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 and 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 any roof of their own; he was not thinking of the future. Another thought was torturing him...the horses. For Slimak the horses were part of his working machinery, for Maciek they were friends and brothers. Who but they in the whole world had longed for him, had greeted him heartily when he returned, or looked after him when he went out? No one but Wojtek and Kasztan. For years they had shared hardships together. Now they were gone, perhaps led away into misery, through his, Maciek's, fault.

He fancied he heard them neighing. They were becoming sensible of what was happening to them and were calling to him for help!

'I am coming, I am coming,' he muttered, took the child on his arm, seized the stick and limped forth. He did not look round, he would see the gospodarstwo again when he came back with the horses.

He saw 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 the thieves had mounted and ridden off at a slow trot. How bold, how sure of 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
yourselves into the ground he will dig you out with his hands; if you escape to Heaven he will stand at the gate and importune the saints until they fly all over the universe and give him back the horses!

On the highroad the tracks became less distinct, but they were still recognizable. Maciek could read the whole history of the peregrination in them. Here Kasztan had been startled and had shied; here the thief had dismounted and altered Wojtek's bridle. What gentlemen they were, these thieves, they came stealing in new boots, such as no gentleman need have been ashamed of!

Near the church the tracks became confused and, what was worse, divided. Kasztan had been ridden to the right and Wojtek to the left. After reflecting for a moment, Maciek followed the latter track, possibly because it was clearer, but most likely because he loved that little horse the best. About noon he found himself 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 little girl was crying.

Grochowski was at home and in the middle of receiving a sound rating from his wife for no particular 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 window-sill, 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, pulling 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, Grochowski hailed Maciek's arrival gladly, and ordered food for him and milk for the 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 necessary implements were not at hand. So he drew Maciek into the alcove for a long, whispered conversation, the upshot of which was that they must proceed with caution upon the track of the thieves, as certain strong influences tied Grochowski's hands until he had clearer evidence. Maciek was also given to understand why Jasiek Gryb had entertained the gospodarz and his family so liberally, and Grochowski even seemed to know the man who
had presented Maciek with the monks' cordial and said that the woman in the sledge was not a woman at all.

'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 by to-morrow.'

'And shall we find the horses?'

'We shall find them even if we had to drag them out of the thieves' bowels,' said the Soltys, looking fierce.

It was about two o'clock when Maciek was ready to start. The Soltys hinted that the child had better be left behind, but his wife was so angry at the suggestion that he desisted. So Maciek tied her up again in the old bits of clothing and went his way.

He easily found Kasztan's tracks on the highroad and followed them for an hour, when he thought that he must be nearing the thieves' quarters, for the tracks had been covered 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 gusts; Maciek searched all the more eagerly, so as not to miss the track before 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.

Now and then he would sit down for a moment, too tired to go on, but he jumped up again, for he fancied he heard Kasztan neighing. Probably it was his aching head that produced these sounds, but at last they became so loud that he left the track and cut right across the hill in the direction from which they seemed to proceed. With his last remaining
strength he struggled with the bushes, fell, scrambled to his feet, and continued. Then the neighing ceased and he found that he was in the ravines, knee-deep in snow, and night-was falling.

With difficulty he dragged himself on to a knoll to see where he was. He could see nothing but snow--snow 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; at last he decided on an easier place and put his stick forward; it gave way, and he fell after it for several yards. It was fortunate that the snow lay waist-deep in this spot.

The frightened child began its low sobbing, it had always been too weak to cry heartily. Fear was knocking at Maciek's heart.

'Surely, I 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.'

He started walking again, alternately in low and deep snow, until he came upon a place that had been trodden down recently. He knelt down and felt the tracks with his hands. They were his own footprints.

'Dear me! 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. He 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 like gnats.

'Can it be that my hour has come?' he thought; 'No, no,' he whispered, 'not till I have found the horses, 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 discomfort; 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 will keep the horses.'

The hard snow fell faster and faster, whitening Maciek from head to foot; the wind swept along the top of the hills, and as he listened to it, the man was glad that he had not been caught in the open.

'It's quite warm here,' he said, 'but all the same I'm not going to sit down, I must keep on walking till the morning.'

But it was not yet midnight and Maciek's legs began to refuse obedience, he could no longer push away 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 excellent; it was raised above the ravine, and the little hollow was just large enough to hold a man; bushes sheltered it against the snow on all sides. But the crowning advantage was a jutting piece of rock, about the size of a

'No, I 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.'

He boldly sat down, drew his cap over his ears and the clothes round the sleeping child, and decided 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 toes, swarmed over his injured leg, then over the other, and reached his knees. 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
first place 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
ravines, and 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 himself 'Why am I not to go to sleep? It's night and I am in the stable? The thieves might be coming, that's it!'

He grasped his stick more firmly; whispers seemed to be stirring all round.

'Oho! they are opening the stable door, there is the snow, this time I will give it to them....'

The thieves must have found out that he was on the watch this time and made off. Maciek laughed; now he could go to sleep. He straightened his back, pressed the little girl close.

'Just a moment's sleep,' he reminded himself, 'I've something to do, but what is it? Ploughing? no, that's done. Water the horses.. the horses....'

After midnight the moon dispersed the clouds and the new moon peeped out and looked straight into the sleeper's 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 the 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 shouted, but there was no answer, and the man approached.

'Heh, 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 touched his hand.

Maciek's 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 remembered that no one would hear him. He turned and ran at full speed to the Soltys' office.

In the course of an hour or two a sledge with some men arrived to remove the bodies. But Maciek's was frozen so hard that it was impossible to open his arms or straighten 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, and his face turned upwards, as though he had done with human reckoning and was recounting his wrongs to his Creator.

When the mournful procession stopped, a small crowd of peasants, women, and Jews gathered in front of the Wojt's office. The Wojt, his clerk, and Grochowski were standing together. A shudder of remorse seized the latter, he guessed who the man and child were that had been found, frozen to death. He explained to the crowd what Maciek had told him.

When he had finished, the men turned away, the women groaned, the Jews spat on the ground; only Jasiek, the son of the rich peasant Gryb, lighted an expensive cigar and smiled. 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 looked at him with aversion, but the women, although shocked, did not think him repulsive. Was he not a
tall, broadshouldered, graceful lad, with a complexion like milk and blood, and eyes the colour of a bluebottle, 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.

'Certainly it was wrong of Slimak to send the poor wretch away in such weather,' said the Wojt.

'It was a shame,' murmured the women.

'It's only natural he should be angry when his horses had been stolen,' said one of the men.

'Driving him away did not bring the horses back, and he will have the two poor souls on his conscience till he dies,' cried an old woman.

Grochowski was seized with shuddering again.

'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.

'They may find that there is a limit to it,' said Grochowski.

The policeman now proceeded to examine the corpses, and the Wojt was standing by with a wry face, as if he had bitten on a peppercorn.

'We must 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 time that any one in this parish has ever been frozen to death.'

Stojka 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 make closer acquaintance with the police-court, for spoiling his neighbour's bucket, went with him.

It so 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 months after leaving her child in Maciek's care she had been arrested; the reason was unknown to her. As a matter of fact she had been accused of begging, vagrancy, and attempted arson. After the discovery of each new crime, they had taken her from police-station to prison, from prison to infirmary, from infirmary to another
prison, and so on for a whole year.

During her peregrinations Zoska had behaved with complete indifference; when she was taken to a new 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 plank bed, or waiting in corridors and prison-yards. It was all the same to her. 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 two peasants; one carried
the papers 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 called out: 'Heh! not so fast!' she stood as still as a post, and waited till they told her to go on.

'She's quite daft!' said one.

'She's always been like that,' said the other, who had known her a long time, 'yet she's not bad at rough work.'

A few versts from the village, where the chimneys peeped out from beyond the snowy hills, they came upon the little cortège. The attendants, noticing something unusual in the look of it, stopped and talked to the Soltys.

'Look, Zoska,' said the latter to the woman who was standing by indifferently, 'that is your little girl.'

She approached without seeming to understand; slowly, however, her face acquired a human expression.

'What's fallen upon them?'

'They have been frozen.'

'Why have they been frozen?'

'Slimak drove them out of the house.'

'Slimak 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 death?... she was meant to come to a bad end. As God loves me, yes, that's my girl, my little girl--they've murdered her; look at her!' she suddenly became animated.

'Drive on,' said the Soltys, 'we must be getting on.'

The horses started, Zoska tried to get into the sledge.

'What are you doing?' cried her attendants, pulling her back.

'That's my little girl!' cried Zoska, holding on.

'What if she is yours?' said the Soltys, 'there's one road for you and another for her.'

'She's my little girl, mine!' With both hands the woman held on to the sledge, but the peasant whipped up the horses and she fell to the ground; she grasped the runners and was dragged along for several yards.

'Don't behave like a lunatic,' cried the men, detaching her with difficulty from the fast-moving sledge; she would have run after it, but one of them knelt on her feet and the other held her by the shoulders.

'She's my little girl; Slimak has let her freeze to death.... God punish him, may he freeze to death himself!' she screamed.

Gradually, 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.

'She's forgotten all about it,' said one of her companions.

'These 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.

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Boleslaw Prus
(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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