Part 3 out of 7
cannonading began that the echoes reached the farthest ends of the
valley, telling every one that not even the rocks were able to
withstand the Germans.
'Those Swabians are a hard race,' muttered Slimak, as he gazed on the
giants that had been dashed to pieces. He thought of the colonists for
whom the property had been bought, and who now wanted his land as well.
'They are not anywhere about,' he thought; 'perhaps they won't come
But they came.
One morning, early in April, Slimak went out before sunrise as usual to
say his prayers in the open. The east was flushed with pink, the stars
were paling, only the morning star shone like a jewel, and was welcomed
from below by the awakening birds.
The peasant's lips moved in prayer, while he fixed his eyes on the
white mist which covered the ground like snow. Then it was that he
heard a distant sound from beyond the hills, a rumble of carts and the
voices of many people. He quickly walked up the lonely pine hill and
perceived a long procession of carts covered with awnings, filled with
human beings and their domestic and agricultural implements. Men in
navy-blue coats and straw hats were walking beside them, cows were tied
behind, and small herds of pigs were scrambling in and out of the
procession. A little cart, scarcely larger than a child's, brought up
the rear; it was drawn by a dog and a woman, and conveyed a man whose
feet were dangling down in front.
'The Swabians are coming!' flashed through Slimak's mind, but he put
the thought away from him.
'Maybe they are gipsies,' he argued. But no--they were not dressed like
gipsies, and woodcutters don't take cattle about with them--then who
He shrank from the thought that the colonists were actually coming.
'Maybe it's they, maybe not...' he whispered.
For a moment a hill concealed them from his view, and he hoped that the
vision had dissolved into the light of day. But there they were again,
and each step of their lean horses brought them nearer. The sun was
gilding the hill which they were ascending, and the larks were singing
brightly to welcome them.
Across the valley the church bell was ringing. Was it calling to
prayers as usual, or did it warn the people of the invasion of a
Slimak looked towards the village. The cottage-doors were closed, no
one was astir, and even if he had shouted aloud, 'Look, gospodarze, the
Germans are here!' no one would have been alarmed.
The string of noisy people now began to file past Slimak's cottage. The
tired horses were walking slowly, the cows could scarcely lift their
feet, the pigs squeaked and stumbled. But the people were happy,
laughing and shouting from cart to cart. They turned round by the
bridge on to the open ground.
The small cart in the rear had now reached Slimak's gate; the big dog
fell down panting, the man raised himself to a sitting position and the
girl took the strap from her shoulder and wiped her perspiring
forehead. Slimak was seized with pity for them; he came down from the
hill and approached the travellers.
'Where do you all come from? Who are you?' he asked.
'We are colonists from beyond the Vistula,' the girl answered. 'Our
people have bought land here, and we have come with them.'
'But have not you bought land also?'
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
'Is it the custom with you for the women to drag the men about?'
'What can we do? we have no horses and my father cannot walk on his own
'Is your father lame?'
The peasant reflected for a moment.
'Then he is hanging on to the others, as it were?'
'Oh no,' replied the girl with much spirit, 'father teaches the
children and I take in sewing, and when there is no sewing to do I work
in the fields.'
Slimak looked at her with surprise and said, after a pause: 'You can't
be German, you talk our language very well.'
'We are from Germany.'
'Yes, we are Germans,' said the man in the cart, speaking for the first
Slimakowa and Jendrek now came out of the cottage and joined the group
at the gate.
'What a strong dog!' cried Jendrek.
'Look here,' said Slimak, 'this lady has dragged her lame father a long
way in the cart; would you do that, you scamp?'
'Why should I? Haven't they any horses, dad?'
'We have had horses,' murmured the man in the cart, 'but we haven't any
He was pale and thin, with red hair and beard.
'Wouldn't you like to rest and have something to eat after your long
journey?' inquired Slimak.
'I don't want anything to eat, but my father would like some milk.'
'Run and get some milk, Jendrek,' cried Slimak.
'Meaning no offence,' said Slimakowa, 'but you Germans can't have a
country of your own, or else you wouldn't come here.'
'This is our home,' the girl replied. 'I was born in this country, the
other side of the Vistula.'
Her father made an impatient movement and said in a broken voice: 'We
Germans have a country of our own, larger than yours, but it's not
pleasant to live in: too many people, too little land; it's difficult
to make a living, and we have to pay heavy taxes and do hard military
service, and there are penalties for everything.'
He coughed and continued after a pause: 'Everybody wants to be
comfortable and live as he pleases, and not as others tell him. It's
not pleasant to live in our country, so we've come here.'
Jendrek brought the milk and offered it to the girl, who gave it to her
'God repay you!' sighed the invalid; 'the people in this country are
'I wish you would not do us harm,' said Slimakowa in a half-whisper.
'Why should we do you harm?' said the man. 'Do we take your land? do we
steal? do we murder you? We are quiet people, we get in nobody's way so
long as nobody gets...'
'You have bought the land here,' Slimak interrupted.
'But why did your squire sell it to us? If thirty peasants had been
settled here instead of one man, who did nothing but squander his
money, our people would not have come. Why did not you yourselves form
a community and buy the village? Your money would have been as good as
ours. You have been settled here for ages, but the colonists had to
come in before you troubled about the land, and then no sooner have
they bought it than they become a stumbling-block to you! Why wasn't
the squire a stumbling-block to you?'
Breathless, he paused and looked at his wasted arms, then continued:
'To whom is it that the colonists resell their land? To you peasants!
On the other side of the Vistula the peasants bought up every scrap
of our land.'
[Footnote 1: i.e. in Prussian Poland. One of the Polish people's
grievances is that the large properties are not sold direct to them but
to the colonists, and the peasants have to buy the land from them.
Statistics show that in spite of the great activity of the German
Colonization Commission more and more land is constantly acquired by
the Polish peasants, who hold on to the land tenaciously.]
'One of your lot is always after me to sell him my land,' said Slimak.
'To think of such a thing!' interposed his wife. 'Who is he?'
'How should I know? there are two of them, and they came twice, an old
man and one with a beard. They want my hill to put up a windmill, they
'That's Hamer,' said the girl under her breath to her father.
'Oh, Hamer,' repeated the invalid, 'he has caused us difficulties
enough. Our people wanted to go to the other side of the Bug, where
land only costs thirty roubles an acre, but he persuaded them to come
here, because they are building a railway across the valley. So our
people have been buying land here at seventy roubles an acre and have
been running into debt with the Jew, and we shall see what comes of
The girl meanwhile had been eating coarse bread, sharing it with the
dog. She now looked across to where the colonists were spreading
themselves over the fields.
'We must go, father,' she said.
'Yes, we must go; what do I owe you for the milk, gospodarz?'
The peasant shrugged his shoulders.
'If we were obliged to take money for a little thing like that, I
shouldn't have asked you.'
'Well, God repay you!'
'God speed you,' said Slimak and his wife.
'Strange folk, those Germans,' he said, when they had slowly moved off.
'He is a clever man, yet he goes about in that little cart like an old
'And the girl!' said Slimakowa, 'whoever heard of dragging an old man
about, as if you were a horse.'
'They're not bad,' said Slimak, returning to his cottage.
The conversation with the Germans had reassured him that they were not
as terrible as he had fancied.
When Maciek went out after breakfast to plough the potato-fields,
Slimak slipped off.
'You've got to put up the fence!' his wife called out after him.
'That won't run away,' he answered, and banged the door, fearful lest
his wife should detain him.
He crouched as he ran through the yard, wishing to attract her
attention as little as possible, and went stealthily up the hill to
where Maciek was perspiring over his ploughing.
'How about those Swabians?' asked the labourer.
Slimak sat down on the slope so that he could not be seen from the
cottage, and pulled out his pipe.
'You might sit over there,' Maciek said, pointing with his whip to a
raised place; 'then I could smell the smoke.'
'What's the good of the smoke to you? I'll give you my pipe to finish,
and meanwhile it does not grieve the old woman to see me sitting here
wasting my time.' He lit his pipe very deliberately, rested his elbows
on his knees and his head in his hands and looked into the valley,
watching the crowd of Germans.
With their covered carts they had enclosed a square into which they had
driven their cattle and horses; inside and outside of this the people
were bustling about. Some put a portable manger on a stand and fed the
cows, others ran to the river with buckets. The women brought out their
saucepans and little sacks of vegetables and a crowd of children ran
down the ravine for fuel.
'What crowds of children they have!' said Slimak; 'we have not as many
in the whole village.'
'Thick as lice,' said Maciek.
Slimak could not wonder enough. Yesterday the field had been empty and
quiet, to-day it was like a fair. People by the river, people in the
ravines, people on the fields, who chop the bushes, carry wood, make
fires, feed and water the animals! One man had already opened a
retail-shop on a cart and was obviously doing good business. The women
were pressing round him, buying salt, sugar, vinegar. Some young
mothers had made cradles of shawls, suspended on short pitchforks, and
while they were cooking with one hand they rocked the cradle with the
other. There was a veterinary surgeon, too, who examined the foot of a
lame horse, and a barber was shaving an old Swabian on the step of his
'Do you notice how quickly they work? It's farther for them to fetch
the firewood than for us, yet we take half the day over it and they do
it before you can say two prayers.'
'Oh! oh!' said Maciek, who seemed to feel this remark as an aspersion.
'But, then, they work together, 'continued Slimak; 'when our people go
out in a crowd every one attends to his own business, and rests when he
likes or gets into the way of the others. But these dogs work together
as if they were used to each other; if one of them were to lie down on
the ground the others would cram work into his hand and stand over him
till he had finished it. Watch them yourself.'
He gave his pipe to Maciek and returned to the cottage.
'They are quick folk, those Swabians,' he muttered, 'and clever!'
Within half an hour he had discovered the two secrets of modern work:
organization and speed.
About noon two colonists came to the gospodarstwo and asked Slimak to
sell them butter and potatoes and hay. He let them have the former
without bargaining, but he refused the hay.
'Let us at least have a cartload of straw,' they asked with their
'I won't. I haven't got any.'
The men got angry.
'That scoundrel Hamer is giving us no end of trouble,' one cried,
dashing his cap on the ground; 'he told us we should get fodder and
everything at the farms. We can't get any at the manor either; the Jews
from the inn are there and won't stir from the place.'
Just as they were leaving, a brichka drove up containing the two
Hamers, whose faces were now quite familiar to Slimak. The colonists
rushed to the vehicle with shouts and explanations, gesticulating
wildly, pointing hither and thither, and talking in turns, for even in
their excitement they seemed to preserve system and order.
The Hamers remained perfectly calm, listening patiently and
attentively, until the others were tired of shouting. When they had
finished, the younger man answered them at some length, and at last
they shook hands and the colonists took up their sacks of potatoes and
'How are you, gospodarz?' called the elder man to Slimak. 'Shall we
come to terms yet?'
'What's the use of talking, father?' said the other; 'he will come to
us of his own accord!'
'Never!' cried Slimak, and added under his breath: 'They are dead set
on me--the vermin! Queer folk!' he observed to his wife, looking after
the departing brichka, 'when our people are quarrelling, they don't
stop to listen, but these seem to understand each other all the same
and to smooth things over.'
'What are you always cracking up the Swabians for, you old silly?'
returned his wife. 'You don't seem to remember that they want to take
your land away from you.... I can't make you out!'
'What can they do to me? I won't let them have it, and they can't rob
'Who knows? They are many, and you are only one.'
'That's God's will! I can see they have more sense than I have, but
when it comes to holding on, there I can match them! Look at all the
woodpeckers on that little tree; that tree is like us peasants. The
squire sits and hammers, the parish sits and hammers, the Jews and the
Germans sit and hammer, yet in the end they all fly away and the tree
is still the tree.'
The evening brought a visit from old Sobieska, who stumbled in with her
demand of a 'thimbleful of whisky'.
'I nearly gave up the ghost,' she cried, 'I've run so fast to tell you
She was rewarded with a thimble which a giant could well have worn on
'Oh, Lord!' she cried, when she had drained it, 'this is the judgment
day for some people in the village! You see, Gryb and Orzchewski had
always taken for granted that the colonists wouldn't come, and they had
meant to drive a little bargain between them and keep some of the best
land and settle Jasiek Gryb on it like a nobleman, and he was to marry
Orzchewski's Paulinka. You know, she had learnt embroidery from the
squire's wife, and Jasiek had been doing work in the bailiff's office
and now goes about in an overcoat on high-days and holidays and...give
me another thimbleful, or I shall feel faint and can't talk....
Meanwhile, as I told you, the colonists had paid down half the money to
the Jew, and here they are, that's certain! When Gryb hears of it, he
comes and abuses Josel! "You cur of a Jew, you Caiaphas, you have
crucified Christ and now you are cheating me! You told me the Germans
wouldn't pay up, and here they are!" Whereupon Josel says: "We don't
know yet whether they will stay!" At first Gryb wouldn't listen and
shouted and banged his fists on the table, but at last Josel drew him
off to his room with Orzchewski, and they made some arrangement among
'He's a fool,' said Slimak; 'he wasn't cute enough to buy the land, he
won't be able to cope with the Germans.'
'Not cute enough?' cried the old woman. 'Give me a thimbleful...Josel's
clever enough, anyway...and his brother-in-law is even better...they'll
deal with the Swabians...I know what I know...give me a
thimbleful...give me a thim...' She became incoherent.
'What was that she was saying?' asked Slimakowa.
'The usual things she says when she's tipsy. She is in service with
Josel, so she thinks him almighty.'
When night came, Slimak again went to look at the camp. The people had
retired under their awnings, the cattle were lying down inside the
square, only the horses were grazing in the fields and ravines. At
times a flame from the camp fires flared up, or a horse neighed; from
hour to hour the call of a sleepy watchman was heard.
Slimak returned and threw himself on his bed, but could find no rest.
The darkness deprived him of energy, and he thought with fear of the
Germans who were so many and he but one. Might they not attack him or
set his house on fire?
About midnight a shot rang out, followed by another. He ran into the
back-yard and came upon the equally frightened Maciek. Shouts, curses,
and the clatter of horses' hoofs came from beyond the river. Gradually
the noise subsided.
Slimak learned in the morning from the colonists that horse-thieves had
stolen in among the horses.
The peasant was taken aback. Never before had such a thing happened in
The news of the attack spread like wildfire and was improved upon in
every village. It was said that there was a gang of horse-stealers
about, who removed the horses to Prussia; that the Germans had fought
with them all night, and that some had been killed.
At last these rumours reached the ears of the police-sergeant, who
harnessed his fat mare, put a small cask and some empty bags into his
cart, and drove off in pursuit of the thieves.
The Germans treated him to smoked ham and excellent brandy, and Fritz
Hamer explained that they suspected two discharged manor-servants, Kuba
Sukiennik and Jasiek Eogacz, of stealing the horses.
'They have been arrested before for stealing locks off the doors, but
had to be released because there were no witnesses,' said the sergeant.
'Which of the gentlemen shot at them? Has he a licence to carry
Hamer, seeing that the question was becoming ticklish, led him aside
and explained things so satisfactorily to him that he soon drove off,
recommending that watch should be kept, and that the colonists should
not carry firearms.
'I suppose your farm will soon be standing, sir?' he asked.
'In a month's time,' replied Hamer.
'Capital!...we must make a day of it!'
He drove on to the manor-house, where Hirschgold's agent was so
delighted to see him that he brought out a bottle of Crimean wine. On
the topic of thieves, however, he had no explanation to offer.
'When I heard them shooting I at once snatched up my revolvers, one in
each hand, and I didn't close my eyes all night.'
'And have you a licence to carry firearms?'
'Why shouldn't I?'
'Oh well, the second is broken; I only keep it for show.'
'How many workmen do you employ?'
'About a hundred.'
'Are all their passports in order?'
The agent gave him a most satisfactory account as to this in his own
way and the sergeant took leave.
'Be careful, sir,' he recommended, 'once robbery begins in the village
it will be difficult to stop it. And in case of accident you will do
well to let me know first before you do anything.' He said this so
impressively that the agent henceforward took the two Jews from the
manor-house to sleep in the bailiff's cottage.
Slimak's gospodarstwo was the sergeant's next destination. Slimakowa
was just pouring out the peeled-barley soup when the stout
administrator of the law entered.
'The Lord be praised,' he said. 'What news?'
'In Eternity. We are all right.'
The sergeant looked round.
'Is your husband at home?'
'Where else should he be? Fetch your father, Jendrek.'
'Beautiful barley; is it your own?'
'Of course it is.'
'You might give me a sackful. I'll pay you next time I come.'
'I'll get the bag at once, sir.'
'Perhaps you can sell me a chicken as well?'
'Mind it's tender, and put it under the box.'
Slimak came in. 'Have you heard, gospodarz, who it was that tried to
steal the horses?'
'How should I know?'
'They say in the village that it was Sukiennik and Rogacz.'
'I don't know about that. I have heard they cannot find work here,
because they have been in prison.'
'Have you got any vodka? The dust makes one's throat dry.'
Vodka and bread and cheese were brought.
'You'd better be careful,' he said, when he departed, 'for they will
either rob you or suspect you.'
'By God's grace no one has ever robbed me, and it will never happen.'
The sergeant went to Josel, who received him enthusiastically. He
invited him into the parlour and assured him that all his licences were
'There is no signboard at the gate.'
'I'll put one up at once of whatever kind you like,' said the innkeeper
obsequiously, and ordered a bottle of porter.
The sergeant now opened the question of the night-attack.
'What night-attack?' jeered Josel. 'The Germans shot at one another and
then got frightened and made out that there was a gang of robbers
about. Such things don't happen here.'
The sergeant wiped his moustache. 'All the same Sukiennik and Rogacz
have been after the horses.'
Josel made a wry face. 'How could they, when they were in my house that
'In your house?'
'To be sure,' Josel answered carelessly. 'Gryb and Orzchewski both saw
them...dead drunk they were. What are they to do? they can't get
regular work, and what a man perchance earns in a day he likes to drink
away at night.'
'They might have got out.'
'They might, but the stable was locked and the key with the foreman.'
The conversation passed on to other topics.
'Look after Sukiennik and Rogacz,' the sergeant said, on his departure,
when he and his mare had been sufficiently rested.
'Am I their father, or are they in my service?'
'They might rob you.'
'Oh! I'll see to that all right!'
The sergeant returned home, half asleep, half awake. Sukiennik and
Rogacz kept passing before his vision; they had their hands full of
locks and were surrounded by horses. Josel's smiling face was hovering
over them and now and then old Gryb and his son Jasiek jeered from
behind a cloud. He sat up...startled. But there was nothing near him
except the white hen under the box and the trees by the wayside. He
'Bah...dreams!' he muttered.
The peasants were relieved when day after day passed and there was no
sign of building in the camp. They jumped to the conclusion that either
the Germans had not been able to come to terms with Hirschgold, or had
quarrelled with the Hamers, or that they had lost heart because of the
'Why, they haven't so much as measured out the ground!' cried
Orzchewski, and washed down the remark with a huge glass of beer.
He had, however, not yet wiped his mouth when a cart pulled up at the
inn and the surveyor alighted. They knew him directly by his
moustaches, which were trimmed to the resemblance of eels, and by his
While Gryb and Orzchewski sorrowfully conducted each other home, they
comforted themselves with the thought that the surveyor might only be
spending the night in the village on his way elsewhere.
'God grant it, I want to see that young scamp of a Jasiek settled and
married, and if I let him out of my sight he goes to the dogs
'My Paulinka is a match for him; she'll look after him!'
'You don't know what you're talking of, neighbour; it will take the
three of us to look after him. Lately he hasn't spent a single night at
home, and sometimes I don't see him for a week.'
The surveyor started work in the manor-fields the next morning, and for
several days was seen walking about with a crowd of Germans in
attendance on all his orders, carrying his poles, putting up a portable
table, providing him with an umbrella or a place in the shade where he
could take long pulls out of his wicker flask. The peasants stood
silently watching them.
'I could measure as well as that if I drank as much as he does,' said
one of them.
'Ah, but that is why he is a surveyor,' said another, 'because he has a
No sooner had he departed than the Germans drove off and returned with
heavy cartloads of building materials. One fine day a small troop of
masons and carpenters appeared with their implements. A party of
colonists went out to meet them, followed by a large crowd of women and
children. They met at an appointed place, where refreshments and a
barrel of beer had been provided.
Old Hamer, in a faded drill-jacket, Fritz in a black coat, and Wilhelm,
adorned with a scarlet waistcoat with red flowers, were busy welcoming
the guests; Wilhelm had charge of the barrel of beer.
Maciek had noticed these preparations and gave the alarm, and all the
inhabitants of the gospodarstwo watched the proceedings with the
keenest interest. They saw old Hamer taking up a stake and driving it
into the ground with a wooden hammer.
'Hoch!...Hoch!' shouted the workmen. Hamer bowed, took a second stake
and carried it northwards, accompanied by the crowd. The women and
children were headed by the schoolmaster in his little cart. He now
lifted his cap high into the air, and at this sign the whole crowd
started to sing Luther's hymn:
'A stronghold sure our God remains,
A shield and hope unfailing,
In need His help our freedom gains,
O'er all our fear prevailing;
Our old malignant foe
Would fain work us woe;
With craft and great might
He doth against us fight,
On earth is no one like him.'
At the first note Slimak had taken off his cap, his wife crossed
herself, and Maciek stepped aside and knelt down. Stasiek, with
wide-open eyes, began to tremble, and Jendrek started running down the
hill, waded through the river, and headed at full speed for the camp.
While Hamer was driving the stake into the ground the procession,
slowly coming up to him, continued:
'Our utmost might is all in vain,
We straight had been rejected,
But for us fights the perfect Man
By God Himself elected;
Ye ask: Who may He be?
The Lord Christ is He!
The God, by hosts ador'd,
Our great Incarnate Lord,
Who all His foes will vanquish.'
Never had the peasants heard a hymn like this, so solemn, yet so
triumphant, they who only knew their plainsongs, which rose to heaven
like a great groan: 'Lord, we lay our guilt before Thine eyes.'
A cry from Stasiek roused the parents from their reverie.
'Mother...mother...they are singing!' stammered the child; his lips
became blue, and he fell to the ground.
The frightened parents lifted him up and carried him into the cottage,
where he recovered when the singing ceased. They had always known that
the singing at church affected him very deeply, but they had never seen
him like this.
Jendrek, meanwhile, although wet through and cold, stood riveted by the
spectacle he was watching. Why were these people walking and singing
like this? Surely, they wanted to drive away some evil power from their
future dwellings, and, not having incense or blessed chalk, they were
using stakes. Well, after all, a club of oakwood was better against the
devil than chalk! Or were they themselves bewitching the place?
He was struck with the difference in the behaviour of the Germans. The
old men, women, and children were walking along solemnly, singing, but
the young fellows and the workmen stood in groups, smoking and
laughing. Once they made a noisy interruption when Wilhelm Hamer, who
presided at the beer-barrel, lifted up his glass. The young men shouted
'Hoch! hurrah!' Old Hamer looked round disapprovingly, and the
schoolmaster shook his fist.
As the procession drew near, Jendrek heard a woman's voice above the
children's shrill trebles, Hamer's guttural bass and the old people's
nasal tones; it was clear, full, and inexpressively moving. It made his
heart tremble within him. The sounds shaped themselves in his
imagination to the picture of a beautiful weeping-willow.
He knew that it must be the voice of the schoolmaster's daughter, whom
he had seen before. At that time the dog had engaged his attention more
than the girl, but now her voice took entire possession of the boy's
soul, to the exclusion of everything else he heard or saw. He, too,
wanted to sing, and began under his breath:
'The Lord is ris'n to-day.
The Lord Jesus Christ...'
It seemed to fit in with the melody which the Germans were just
He was roused from this state by the young men's voices; he caught
sight of the schoolmaster's daughter and unconsciously moved towards
her. But the young man soon brought him to his senses. They pulled his
hat over his ears, pushed him into the middle of the crowd, and, wet,
smeared with sand, looking more like a scarecrow than a boy, he was
passed from hand to hand like a ball. Suddenly his eyes met those of
the girl, and a wild spirit awoke in him. He kicked one young man over
with his bare legs, tore the shirt off another one's back, butted old
Hamer in the stomach, and then stood with clenched fists in the space
he had cleared, looking where he might break through. Most of the men
laughed at him, but some were for handling him roughly. Fortunately old
Hamer recognized him.
'Why, youngster, what are you up to?'
'They're bullying me,' he said, while the tears were rising in his
'Don't you come from that cottage? What are you doing here?'
'I wanted to listen to your singing, but those scoundrels...'
He stopped suddenly when he saw the grey eyes of the schoolmaster's
daughter fixed on him. She offered him the glass of beer she had been
'You are wet through,' she said. 'Take a good pull.'
'I don't want it,' said the boy, and felt ashamed directly; it did not
seem well-mannered to speak rudely to one so beautiful.
'I might get tipsy...' he cried, but drained the glass, looked at her
again and blushed so deeply that the girl smiled sadly as she looked at
At that moment violins and cellos struck up; Wilhelm Hamer came heavily
bounding along and took the girl away to dance. Her yearning eyes once
more rested on Jendrek's face.
He felt that something strange was happening to him. A terrible anger
and sorrow gripped him by the throat; he wanted to throw himself on
Wilhelm and tear his flowered waistcoat off his back; at the same time
he wanted to cry aloud. Suddenly he turned to go.
'Are you going?' asked the schoolmaster. 'Give my compliments to your
'And you can tell him from me that I have rented the field by the river
from Midsummer Day,' Hamer called after him.
'But dad rented it from the squire!' Hamer laughed...'The squire! We
are the squires now, and the field is mine.'
As Jendrek neared the road he came upon a peasant, hidden behind a
bush, who had been watching. It was Gryb.
'Be praised,' said Jendrek.
'Who's praised at your place?' growled the old man; 'it must be the
devil and not the Lord, since you are taking up with the Germans.'
'Who's taking up with them?'
The peasant's eyes flashed and his dry skin quivered.
'You're taking up with them!' he cried, shaking his fist, 'or perhaps I
didn't see you running off to them like a dog through the water to
cadge for a glass of beer, nor your father and mother on the hill
praying with the Swabians...praying to the devil! God has punished them
already, for something has fallen on Stasiek. There will be more to
Jendrek slowly walked home, puzzled and sad. When he returned to the
cottage, he found Stasiek lying ill. He told his father what Gryb had
'He's an old fool,' replied Slimak. 'What! should a man stand like a
beast when others are praying, even if they are Swabians?'
'But their praying has bewitched Stasiek.' Slimak looked gloomy.
'Why should it have been their prayers? Stasiek is easily upset. Let a
woman but sing in the fields and he'll begin to shake all over.'
The matter ended there. Jendrek tried to busy himself about the
cottage, but he felt stifled indoors. He roamed about in the ravines,
stood on the hill and watched the Germans, or forced his way through
brambles. Wherever he went, the image of the schoolmaster's daughter
went with him; he saw her tanned face, grey eyes, and graceful
movements. Sometimes her powerful, entrancing voice seemed to come to
him as from a depth.
'Has she cast a spell over me?' he whispered, frightened, and continued
to think of her.
Slimak had never been so well off as he was that spring; money was
flowing into his chest while he took his leisure and looked around him
at all the new things.
Formerly, after a heavy day, he had thrown himself on his bed and had
scarcely fallen asleep like a stone when his wife would pull the cover
off him, crying: 'Get up, Josef; it is morning.'
'How can it be morning?' he thought; 'I've only just lain down.' All
the same he had to gather his bones together, when each one
individually held to the bed; willy-nilly he had to get up. So hard was
the resolution sometimes, that he even thought with pleasure of the
eternal sleep, when his wife would no longer stand over him and urge:
'Get up, wash...you'll be late; they'll take it off your wages.'
Then he would dress, and drag the equally tired horses out of the
stable, so overcome with sleep that he would pause on the threshold and
mutter, 'I shall stay at home!' But he was afraid of his wife, and he
also knew very well that he could not make both ends meet at the
gospodarstwo without his wages.
Now all that was different. He slept as long as he liked. Sometimes his
wife pulled him by the leg from habit and said: 'Get up, Josef.' But,
opening only one eye, lest sleep should run away from him, he would
growl: 'Leave me alone!' and sleep, maybe, till the church bell rang
for Mass at seven o'clock.
There was really nothing to get up for now. Maciek had long ago
finished the spring-work in the fields; the Jews had left the village,
carrying their business farther afield, following the new railway line
now under construction, and no one sent for him from the manor--for
there was no manor. He smoked, strolled about for days together in the
yard, or looked at the abundantly sprouting corn. His favourite
pastime, however, was to watch the Germans, whose habitations were
shooting up like mushrooms.
By the end of May Hamer and two or three others had finished building,
and their gospodarstwos were pleasant to look at. They resembled each
other like drops of water; each one stood in the middle of its fields,
the garden was by the roadside, shut off by a wooden fence; the house,
roughcast, consisted of four large rooms, and behind it was a good-
sized square of farm-buildings.
All the buildings were larger and loftier than those of the Polish
peasants, and were clean and comfortable, although they looked stiff
and severe; for while the roofs of the Polish gospodarstwos overhung on
the four sides, those of the Germans did so only at the front and back.
But they had large windows, divided into six squares, and the doors
were made by the carpenter. Jendrek, who daily ran over to the
settlement reported that there were wooden floors, and that the kitchen
was a separate room with an iron-plated stove.
Slimak sometimes dreamt that he would build a place like that, only
with a different roof. Then he would jump up, because he felt he ought
to go somewhere and do work, for he was bored and ashamed of idling; at
times he would long for the manor-fields over which he had guided the
plough, where the settlement now stood. Then a great fear would seize
him that he would be powerless when the Germans, who had felled
forests, shattered rocks and driven away the squire, should start on
him in earnest.
But he always reassured himself. He had been neighbours with them now
for two months and they had done him no harm. They worked quietly,
minded their cattle so that they should not stray, and even their
children were not troublesome, but went to school at Hamer's house,
where the infirm schoolmaster kept them in order.
'They are respectable people,' he satisfied himself. 'I'm better off
with them than with the squire.'
He was, for they bought from him and paid well. In less than a month he
had taken a hundred roubles from them; at the manor this had meant a
whole year's toil.
'Do you think, Josef, that the Germans will always go on buying from
you?' his wife asked from time to time. 'They have their own
gospodarstwos now, and better ones than yours; you will see, it will
last through the summer at the best, and after that they won't buy a
stick from us.'
'We shall see,' said the peasant.
He was secretly counting on the advantages which he would reap from the
building of the new line; had not the engineer promised him this? He
even laid in provisions with this object, having to go farther afield,
for the peasants in the village would no longer sell him anything.
But he soon realized that prices had risen; the Germans had long ago
scoured the neighbourhood and bought without bargaining.
Once he met Josel who, instead of smiling maliciously at him as usual,
asked him to enter into a business transaction with him.
'What sort of business?' asked Slimak.
'Build a cottage on your land for my brother-in-law.'
'He wants to set up a shop and deal with the railway people, else the
Germans will take away all the business from under our noses.'
'No, I don't want a Jew on my land,' he said. 'I shouldn't be the first
to be eaten up by you longcurls.'
'You don't want to live with a Jew, but you are not afraid to pray with
the Germans,' said the Jew, pale with anger.
Slimak was made to feel the profound unpopularity he had incurred in
the village. At church on Sundays hardly anyone answered him 'In
Eternity', and when he passed a group he would hear loud talk of
heresy, and God's judgment which would follow.
He therefore ordered a Mass one Sunday, on the advice of his wife, and
went to confession with her and Jendrek; but this did not improve
matters, for the villagers discussed over their beer in the evening
what deadly sin he might have been guilty of to go to confession and
pray so fervently.
Even old Sobieska rarely appeared and came furtively to ask for her
vodka. Once, when her tongue was loosened, she said: 'They say you have
turned into a Lutheran...It's true,' she added, 'there is only one
merciful God, still, the Germans are a filthy thing!'
The Germans now began mysteriously to disappear with their carts at
dawn of day, carrying large quantities of provisions with them. Slimak
investigated this matter, getting up early himself. Soon he saw a tiny
yellow speck in the direction which they had taken. It grew larger
towards evening, and he became convinced that it was the approaching
'The scoundrels!' he said to his wife, 'they've been keeping this
secret so as to steal a march on me, but I shall drive over.'
'Well, look sharp!' cried his wife; 'those railway people were to have
been our best customers.'
He promised to go next day, but overslept himself, and Slimakowa barely
succeeded in driving him off the day after.
He gathered some information on the way from the peasants. Many of them
had volunteered for work, but only a few had been taken on, and those
had soon returned, tired out.
'It's dogs' work, not men's,' they told him; 'yet it might be worth
your while taking the horses, for carters earn four roubles a day.'
'Four roubles a day!' thought Slimak, laying on to the horses.
He drove on smartly and soon came alongside the great mounds of clay on
which strangers were at work, huge, strong, bearded men, wheeling large
barrows. Slimak could not wonder enough at their strength and industry.
'Certainly, none of our men would do this,' he thought.
No one paid any attention to him or spoke to him. At last two Jews
caught sight of him and one asked: 'What do you want, gospodarz?' The
embarrassed peasant twisted his cap in his hands.
'I came to ask whether the gentlemen wanted any barley or lard?'
'My dear man,' said the Jew, 'we have our regular contractors; a nice
mess we should be in, if we had to buy every sack of barley from the
'They must be great people,' thought Slimak, 'they won't buy from the
peasants, they must be buying from the gentry.'
So he bowed to the ground before the Jew, who was on the point of
'I entreat the favour of being allowed to cart for the gentlemen.'
This humility pleased the Jew.
'Go over there, my dear fellow,' he said, 'perhaps they will take you
Slimak bowed again and made his way through the crowd with difficulty.
Among other carts he saw those of the settlers.
Fritz Hamer came forward to meet him; he seemed to be in a position of
some authority there.
'What do you want?' he asked.
'I want a job too.' The settler frowned.
'You won't get one here!'
Seeing that Slimak was looking round, he went to the inspector and
spoke to him.
'No work for carters,' the latter at once shouted, 'no work! As it is
we have too many, you are only getting in people's way. Be off!' The
brutal way in which this order was given so bewildered the peasant
that, in turning, he almost upset his cart; he drove off at full speed,
feeling as if he had offended some great power which had worked enough
destruction already and was now turning hills into valleys and valleys
But gradually he reflected more calmly. People from the village had
been taken on, and he remembered seeing peasants' carts at the
embankment. Why had he been driven away?
It was quite clear that some one wished to shut him out.
'Curse the Judases, they're outdoing the Jews,' he muttered and felt a
horror of the Germans for the first time.
He told his wife briefly that there was no work, and betook himself to
the settlement. Old Hamer seemed to be in the middle of a heated
argument with Hirschgold and two other men. When he caught sight of the
peasant he took them into the barn.
'Sly dog,' murmured Slimak; 'he knows what I've come for. I'll tell him
straight to his face when he comes out.'
But at every step his courage failed him more and more. He hesitated
between his desire to turn back and his unwillingness to lose a job; he
hung about the fences, and looked at the women digging in their
gardens. A murmur like the hum of a beehive caught his ears: one of the
windows in Hamer's house was open and he looked into a schoolroom.
One of the children was reciting something in a clamorous voice, the
others were talking under their breath. The schoolmaster was standing
in the middle of the room, calling out 'Silence!' from time to time.
When he saw Slimak, he beckoned to his daughter to take his place, and
the hubbub of voices increased. Slimak watched her trying to cope with
The schoolmaster came up behind him, walking heavily.
'Did you come to see how we teach our children?' he asked, smilingly.
'Nothing of the kind,' said Slimak; 'I've come to tell Hamer that he is
a scoundrel.' He related his experience.
'What have I done?' he asked. 'Soon I may not be able to earn anything;
is one to starve because it pleases them?'
'The truth is,' said the schoolmaster, 'that you are a thorn in their
'Your land is right in the middle of Hamer's fields and that spoils his
farm, but that is not the reason as much as your hill; he wants it for
a windmill. They have nothing but level ground; it's the best land in
the settlement, but no good for a windmill; if they don't put it up,
one of the other settlers will.'
'And why are they so crazy after a windmill?'
'Well, it matters a great deal to them; if Wilhelm had a windmill he
could marry Miller Knap's daughter from Wolka and get a thousand and
twenty roubles with her; the Hamers may go bankrupt without that money.
That's why you stick in their throats. If you sold them your land they
would pay you well.'
'And I won't sell! I will neither help them to stay here nor do myself
harm for their benefit; when a man leaves the land of his fathers...'
'There will be trouble,' the schoolmaster said earnestly.
'Then let there be; I won't die because it pleases them.'
Slimak returned home without any further wish to see Hamer; he knew
there could be no understanding between them.
Maciek had discovered at dawn one morning that a crowd had reached the
river-bank by the ravines, and Slimak, hurrying thither, found some
gospodarze from the village among the men.
'What is happening?'
'They are going to throw up a dam and build a bridge across the
Bialka,' Wisniewski replied.
'And what are you doing here?'
'We have been taken on to cart sand.'
Slimak discovered the Hamers in the crowd.
'Nice neighbours you are!' he said bitterly, going up to them. 'Here
you are sending all the way to the village for carts, and you won't let
me have a job.'
'We will send for you when you are living in the village,' Fritz
answered, and turned his back.
An elderly gentleman was standing near them, and Slimak turned to him
and took off his cap.
'Is this justice, sir?' he said. 'The Germans are getting rich on the
railway, and I don't earn a kopek. Last year two gentlemen came and
promised that I should make a lot of money. Well, your honours are
building the railway now, but I've never yet taken my horses out of the
stable. A German with thirty acres of ground is having a good job, and
I have only ten acres and a wife and children to keep, as well as the
farmhand and the girl. We shall have to starve, and it's all because
the Germans have a grudge against me.'
He had spoken rapidly and breathlessly, and after a moment of surprise
the old man turned to Fritz Hamer.
'Why did you not take him on?'
Fritz looked insolently at him.
'Is it you who has to answer for the cartage or I? Will you pay my
fines when the men fail me? I take on those whom I can trust.'
The old man bit his lip, but did not reply.
'I can't help you, my brother,' he said; 'you shall drive me as often
as I come to this neighbourhood. It isn't much, but every little helps.
Where do you live?'
Slimak pointed to his cottage; he was longing to speak further, but the
old man turned to give some orders, and the peasant could only embrace
Old Hamer waylaid him on the way back.
'Do you see now how badly you have done for yourself? You will do even
worse, for Fritz is furious.'
'God is greater than Fritz.'
'Will you take seventy-five roubles an acre and settle on the other
side of the Bug? You will have twice as much land.'
'I would not go to the other side of the Bug for double the money; you
go, if you like!'
When the angry men were looking back at each other, the one was
standing with a stubborn face, his pipe between his clenched teeth, the
other with folded arms, smiling sadly. Each was afraid of the other.
The embankment was growing slowly from west to east. Before long
thousands of carriages would roll along its line with the speed of
birds, to enrich the powerful, shatter the poor, spread new customs and
manners, multiply crime...all this is called 'the advancement of
civilization'. But Slimak knew nothing of civilization and its boons,
and therefore looked upon this outcome of it as ominous. The
encroaching line seemed to him like the tongue of some vast reptile,
and the mounds of earth to forebode four graves, his own and those of
his wife and children.
Maciek also had been watching its progress, which he considered an
entire revolution of the laws of nature.
'It's a monstrous thing', he said, 'to heap up so much sand on the
fields near the river, and narrow the bed; when the Bialka swells, it
Slimak saw that the ends of the embankment were touching the river, but
as they had been strengthened by brick walls he took no alarm.
Nevertheless, it struck him that the Hamers were hurriedly throwing up
dams on their fields in the lower places.
'Quick folk!' he thought, and contemplated doing the same, and
strengthening the dams with hurdles, as soon as he had cut the hay. It
occurred to him that he might do it now when he had plenty of time,
but, as usual, it remained a good intention.
It was the beginning of July, when the hay had been cut and people were
gradually preparing for the harvest. Slimak had stacked his hay in the
backyard, but the Germans were still driving in stakes and throwing up
The summer of that year was remarkable for great heat; the bees
swarmed, the corn was ripening fast, the Bialka was shallower than
usual, and three of the workmen died of sunstroke. Experienced farmers
feared either prolonged rain during the harvest or hail before long.
One day the storm came.
The morning had been hot and sultry, the birds did not sing, the pigs
refused to eat and hid in the shade behind the farmbuildings; the wind
rose and fell, it blew now hot and dry, now cool and damp. By about ten
o'clock a large part of the sky was lined with heavy clouds, shading
from ashen-grey into iron-colour and perfect black; at times this sooty
mass, seeking an outlet upon the earth, burst asunder, revealing a
sinister light through the crevices. Then again the clouds lowered
themselves and drowned the tops of the forest trees in mists. But a hot
wind soon drove them upwards again and tore strips off them, so that
they hung ragged over the fields.
Suddenly a fiery cloud appeared behind the village church; it seemed to
be flying at full speed along the railway embankment, driven by the
west wind; at the same time the north wind sprang up and buffeted it
from the side; dust flew up from the highroads and sandhills, and the
clouds began to growl.
When they heard the sound, the workmen left their tools and barrows,
and filed away in two long detachments, one to the manor-house, the
other to their huts. The peasants and settlers turned the sand out of
their carts with all speed and galloped home. The cattle were driven in
from the fields, the women left their gardens; every place became
Thunderclap after thunderclap announced ever-fresh legions pressing
into the sky and obscuring the sun. It seemed as if the earth were
cowering in their presence, as a partridge cowers before the hovering
hawk. The blackthorn and juniper bushes called to caution with a low,
swishing noise; the troubled dust hid in the corn, where the young ears
whispered to each other; the distant forests murmured.
High above, in the overcharged clouds, an evil force, with strong
desire to emulate the Creator, was labouring. It took the limp element
and formed an island, but before it had time to say, 'It is good', the
wind had blown the island away. It raised a gigantic mountain, but
before the summit had crowned it, the base had been blown from
underneath. Now it created a lion, now a huge bird, but soon only torn
wings and a shapeless torso dissolved into darkness. Then, seeing that
the works fashioned by the eternal hands endured, and that its own
phantom creations could not resist even the feeblest wind, the evil
spirit was seized with a great anger and determined to destroy the
It sent a flash into the river, then thundered, 'Strike those fields
with hail! drench the hill!' And the obedient clouds flung themselves
down. The wind whistled the reveille, the rain beat the drum; like
hounds released from the leash the clouds bounded forward...downward,
following the direction to which the flashes of lightning pointed. The
evil spirit had put out the sun.
After an hour's downpour the exhausted storm calmed down, and now the
roar of the Bialka could be distinctly heard. It had broken down the
banks, flooded the highroad and fields with dirty water and formed a
lake beyond the sandhills of the railway embankment.
Soon, however, the storm had gathered fresh strength, the darkness
increased, lightning seemed to flash from all parts of the horizon;
perpendicular torrents of rain drowned the earth in sheets of mist. The
inmates of Slimak's cottage had gathered in the front room; Maciek sat
yawning on a corner of the bench, Magda, beside him, nursed the baby,
singing to it in a low voice; Slimakowa was vexed that the storm was
putting the fire out; Slimak was looking out of the window, thinking of
his crops. Jendrek was the only cheerful one; he ran out from time to
time, wetting himself to the skin, and tried to induce his brother or
Magda to join him in these excursions.
'Come, Stasiek,' he cried, pulling him by the hand, 'it's such a warm
rain, it will wash you and cheer you up.'
'Leave him alone,' said his father; 'he is peevish.'
'And don't run out yourself,' added his mother, 'you are flooding the
whole room.... The Word was made Flesh,' she added under her breath, as
a terrific clap of thunder shook the house. Magda crossed herself;
Jendrek laughed and cried, 'What a din! there's another.... The Lord
Jesus is enjoying Himself, firing off....'
'Be quiet, you silly,' called his mother; 'it may strike you!'
'Let it strike!' laughed the boy boldly. 'They'll take me into the army
and shoot at me, but I don't mind!' He ran out again.
'The rascal! he isn't afraid of anything,' Slimakowa said to her
husband with pride in her voice. Slimak shrugged his shoulders.
'He's a true peasant.'
Yet among that group of people with iron nerves there was one who felt
all the terror of this upheaval of the elements. How was it that
Stasiek, a peasant child, was so sensitive?
Like the birds he had felt the coming storm, had roamed about
restlessly and watched the clouds, fancying that they were taking
council together, and he guessed that their intentions were evil. He
felt the pain of the beaten-down grass and shivered at the thought of
the earth being chilled under sheets of water. The electricity in the
air made his flesh tingle, the lightning dazzled him, and each clap of
thunder was like a blow on his head. It was not that he was afraid of
the storm, but he suffered under it, and his suffering spirit pondered,
'Why and whence do such terrible things come?'
He wandered from the room to the alcove, from the alcove to the room,
as if he had lost his way, gazed absently out of the window and lay
down on the bench, feeling all the more miserable because no one took
any notice of him.
He wanted to talk to Maciek, but he was asleep; he tried Magda and
found her absorbed in the baby; he was afraid of Jendrek's dragging him
out of doors if he spoke to him. At last he clung to his mother, but
she was cross because of the fire and pushed him away.
'A likely thing I should amuse you, when the dinner is being spoilt!'
He roamed about again, then leant against his father's knee.
'Daddy,' he said in a low voice, 'why is the storm so bad?'
'Is God doing it?'
'It must be God.'
Stasiek began to feel a little more cheerful, but his father happened
to shift his position, and the child thought he had been pushed away
again. He crept under the bench where Burek lay, and although the dog
was soaking wet, he pressed close to him and laid his head on the
Unluckily his mother caught sight of him.
'Whatever's the matter with the boy?' she cried. 'Just you come away
from there, or the lightning will strike you! Out into the passage,
She looked for a piece of wood, and the dog crept out with his tail
between his legs. Stasiek was left again to his restlessness, alone in
a roomful of people. Even his mother was now struck by his miserable
face and gave him a piece of bread to comfort him. He bit off a
mouthful, but could not swallow it and burst into tears.
'Good gracious, Stasiek, what's the matter? Are you frightened?'
'Then why are you so queer?'
'It hurts me here,' he said, pointing to his chest.
Slimak, who was depressed himself, thinking of his harvest, drew him to
his knee, saying: 'Don't worry! God may destroy our crop, but we won't
starve all the same. He is the smallest, and yet he has more sense than
the others,' he said, turning to his wife; 'he's worrying about the
Gradually, as the storm abated, the roar of the river struck them
afresh. Slimak quickly drew on his boots.
'Where are you going?' asked his wife.
'Something's wrong outside.'
He went and returned breathlessly.
'I say! It's just as I thought.'
'Is it the corn?'
'No, that hasn't suffered much, but the dam is broken.'
'The water is up to our yard. Those scoundrel Swabians have dammed up
their fields, and that has taken some more off the hill.'
'Have you looked into the stable?' asked Maciek.
'Is it likely I shouldn't? There's water in the stable, water in the
cowshed, look! even the passage is flooded; but the rain is stopping,
we must bale out.'
'And the hay?'
'That will dry again if God gives fine weather.'
Soon the entire household were baling in the house and farm-buildings;
the fire was burning brightly, and the sun peeped out from behind the
On the other bank of the river the Germans were at work. Barelegged,
and armed with long poles, they waded carefully through the flooded
fields towards the river to catch the drifting logs.
Stasiek was calming down; he was not tingling all over now. From time
to time he still fancied he heard the thunder, and strained his ears,
but it was only the noise of the others baling with wooden grain
measures. There was much commotion in the passage where Jendrek pushed
Magda about instead of baling.
'Steady there,' cried his mother, 'when I get hold of something hard
I'll beat you black and blue!'
But Jendrek laughed, for he could tell by a shade in her voice that she
was no longer cross.
Courage returned to Stasiek's heart. Supposing he were to peep out into
the yard... would there still be a terrible black cloud? Why not try?
He put his head out of the back door and saw the blue sky flecked with
little white clouds hurrying eastwards. The cock was flapping his wings
and crowing, heavy drops were sparkling on the bushes, golden streaks
of sunlight penetrated into the passage, and bright reflections from
the surface of the waters beckoned to him.
He flew out joyfully through the pools of water, delighting in the
rainbow-coloured sheaves that were spurting from under his feet; he
stood on a plank and punted himself along with a stick, pretending that
he was sailing in deep water.
'Come, Jendrek!' he called.
'Stop here and go on baling,' called out Slimakowa.
The Germans were still busy landing wood; whenever they got hold of a
specially large piece they shouted 'Hurrah!' Suddenly some big logs
came floating down, and this raised their enthusiasm to such a pitch
that they started singing the 'Wacht am Rhein'. For the first time in
his life Stasiek, who was so sensitive to music, heard a men's chorus
sung in parts. It seemed to melt into one with the bright sun; both
intoxicated him; he forgot where he was and what he was doing, he stood
petrified. Waves seemed to be floating towards him from the river,
embracing and caressing him with invisible arms, drawing him
irresistibly. He wanted to turn towards the house or call Jendrek, but
he could only move forward, slowly, as in a dream, then
faster...faster; he ran, and disappeared down the hill.
The men were singing the third verse of the 'Wacht am Rhein', when they
suddenly stopped and shouted:
Slimak and Maciek had stopped in their work to listen to the singing;
the sudden cries surprised them, but it was the labourer who was seized
'Run, gospodarz,' he said; 'something's up.'
'Eh! something they have taken into their heads!'
'Help!' the cry rose again.
'Never mind, run, gospodarz,' the man urged; 'I can't keep up with you,
Slimak ran towards the river, and Maciek painfully dragged himself
after him. Jendrek overtook him.
'What's up? Where is Stasiek?'
Maciek stopped and heard a powerful voice calling out:
'That's the way you look after your children, Polish beasts!'
Then Slimak appeared on the hill, holding Stasiek in his arms. The
boy's head was resting on his shoulder, his right arm hung limply.
Dirty water was flowing from them both. Slimak's lips were livid, his
eyes wide open. Jendrek ran towards him, slipped on the boggy hillside,
scrambled up and shouted in terror: 'Daddy...Stasiek...what....'
'You are mad,' cried the boy; 'he's sitting on your arm!'
He pulled Stasiek by the shirt, and the boy's head fell over his
'You see!' whispered Slimak.
'But he was in the backyard a minute ago.'
Slimak did not answer, he supported Stasiek's head and stumbled
Slimakowa was standing in the passage, shading her eyes and waiting.
'Well, what has he been up to now?... What's this? Has it fallen on
Stasiek again? Curse those Swabians and their singing!'
She went up to the boy and, taking his hand, said in a trembling voice:
'Never mind, Stasiek, don't roll your eyes like that, never mind! Come
to your senses, I won't scold you. Magda, fetch some water.'
'He has had more than enough water,' murmured Slimak.
The woman started back.
'What's the matter with him? Why is he so wet?'
'I have taken him out of the pool by the river.'
'That little pool?'
'The water was only up to my waist, but it did for him.'
'Then why don't you turn him upside down? Maciek, take him by the
feet...oh, you clumsy fellows!'
The labourer did not stir. She seized the boy herself by the legs.
Stasiek struck the ground heavily with his hands; a little blood ran
from his nose.
Maciek took the child from her and carried him into the cottage, where
he laid him down on the bench. They all followed him except Magda, who
ran aimlessly round the yard and then, with outstretched arms, on to
the highroad, crying: 'Help...help, if you believe in God!' She
returned to the cottage, but dared not go in, crouched on the threshold
with her head on her knees, groaning: 'Help...if you believe in God.'
Slimak dashed into the alcove, put on his sukmana and ran out, he did
not know whither; he felt he must run somewhere.
A voice seemed to cry to him: 'Father...father...if you had put up a
fence, your child would not have been drowned!'
And the man answered: 'It is not my fault; the Germans bewitched him
with their singing.'
A cart was heard rattling on the highroad and stopped in front of the
cottage. The schoolmaster got out, bareheaded and with his rod in his
hand. 'How is the boy?' he called out, but did not wait for an answer
and limped into the cottage.
Stasiek was lying on the bench, his mother was supporting his head on
her knees and whispering to herself: 'He's coming to, he's a little
The schoolmaster nudged Maciek: 'How is he?'
'What do I know? She says he's better, but the boy doesn't move, no, he
The schoolmaster went up to the boy and told his mother to make room.
She got up obediently and watched the old man breathlessly, with open
mouth, sobbing now and then. Slimak peeped through the open window from
time to time, but he was unable to bear the sight of his child's pale
face. The schoolmaster stripped the wet clothes off the little body and
slowly raised and lowered his arms. There was silence while the others
watched him, until Slimakowa, unable to contain herself any longer,
pulled her hair down and then struck her head against the wall.
'Oh, why were you ever born?' she moaned, 'a child of gold! He
recovered from all his illnesses and now he is drowned.... Merciful
God! why dost Thou punish me so? Drowned like a puppy in a muddy pool,
and no one to help!'
She sank down on her knees, while the schoolmaster persevered for half
an hour, listening for the beating of the child's heart from time to
time, but no sign of life appeared and, seeing that he could do no
more, he covered the child's body with a cloth, silently said a prayer
and went out. Maciek followed him.
In the yard he came upon Slimak; he looked like a drunken man.
'What have you come here for, schoolmaster?' he choked. 'Haven't you
done us enough harm? You've killed my child with your singing...do you
want to destroy his soul too as it is leaving him, or do you mean to
bring a curse on the rest of us?'
'What is that you are saying?' said the schoolmaster in amazement.
The peasant stretched his arms and gasped for breath.
'Forgive me, sir,' he said, 'I know you are a good man.... God reward
you,' he kissed his hand; 'but my Stasiek died through your fault all
the same: you bewitched him.'
'Man!' cried the schoolmaster, 'are we not Christians like you? Do we
not put away Satan and his deeds as you do?'
'But how was it he got drowned?'
'How do I know? He may have slipped.'
'But the water was so shallow he might have scrambled out, only your
singing...that was the second time it bewitched him so that something
fell on him...isn't it true, Maciek?'
The labourer nodded.
'Did the boy have fits?' asked the schoolmaster.
'And has he never been ill?'
Maciek shook his head. 'He's been ill since the winter.'
'Eh?' asked Slimak.
'I'm speaking the truth; Stasiek has been ill ever since he took a
cold; he couldn't run without getting out of breath; once I saw it fall
upon him while I was ploughing. I had to go and bring him round.'
'Why did you never say anything about it?'
'I did tell the gospodyni, but she told me to mind my own business and
not to talk like a barber.'
'Well, you see,' said the schoolmaster, the boy was suffering from a
weak heart and that killed him; he would have died young in any case.'
Slimak listened eagerly, and his consciousness seemed to return.
'Could it be that?' he murmured. 'Did the boy die a natural death?'
He tapped at the window and the woman came out, rubbing her swollen
'Why didn't you tell me that Stasiek had been ill since the winter, and
couldn't run without feeling queer?'
'Of course he wasn't well,' she said; 'but what good could you have
'I couldn't have done anything, for if he was to die, he was to die.'
The mother cried quietly.
'No, he couldn't escape; if he was to die he was to die; he must have
felt it coming to-day during the storm, when he went about clinging to
everyone...if only it had entered my head not to let him out of my
sight...if I had only locked him up....'
'If his hour had come, he would have died in the cottage,' said the
Already resignation was entering into the hearts of those who mourned
for Stasiek. They comforted each other, saying that no hair falls from
our heads without God's will.
'Not even the wild beasts die unless it is God's will,' said Slimak: 'a
hare may be shot at and escape, and then die in the open field, so that
you can catch it with your hands.'
'Take my case,' said Maciek: 'the cart crushed me and they took me to
the hospital, and here I am alive; but when my hour has struck I shall
die, even if I were to hide under the altar. So it was with Stasiek.'
'My little one, my comfort!' sobbed the mother.
'Well, he wouldn't have been much comfort,' said Slimak; 'he couldn't
have done heavy farm work.' 'Oh, no!' put in Maciek.
'Or handled the beasts.'
'He would never have made a peasant; he was such a peculiar child, he
didn't care for farm work; all he cared for was roaming about and
gazing into the river.'
'Yes, and he would talk to the grass and the birds, I have heard it
myself,' said Maciek, 'and many times have I thought: "Poor thing! what
will you do when you grow up? You'd be a queer fish even among
gentlefolk, but what will it be like for you among the peasants?"'
In the evening Slimak carried Stasiek on to the bed in the alcove; his
mother laid two copper coins on his eyes and lit the candle in front of
They put down straw in the room, but neither of them could sleep; Burek
howled all night, Magda was feverish; Jendrek continually raised
himself from the straw, for he fancied his brother had moved. But
Stasiek did not move.
In the morning Slimak made a little coffin; carpentering came so easily
to him that he could not help smiling contentedly at his own work now
and then. But when he remembered what he was doing, he was seized with
such passionate grief that he threw down his tools and ran out, he knew
On the third day Maciek harnessed the horses to the cart, and they
drove to the village church, Jendrek keeping close to the coffin and
steadying it, so that it should not rock. He even tapped, and listened
if his brother were not calling.
But Stasiek was silent. He was silent when they drove to the church,
silent when the priest sprinkled holy water on him, silent when they
took him to his grave and his father helped the gravedigger to lower
him, and when they threw clods of earth upon him and left him alone for
the first time.
Even Maciek burst into tears. Slimak hid his face in his sukmana like a
Roman senator and would not let his grief be looked upon.
And a voice in his heart whispered: 'Father! father! if you had made a
fence, your child would not have been drowned!'
But he answered: 'I am not guilty; he died because his hour had come.'
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
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
'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
'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
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.