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Selected Polish Tales by Various

Part 6 out of 7

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'Well, dear, you'd better go for the priest, make haste... look!'

'All right, all right. Poor thing! He looks as if he couldn't last much
longer. I must make haste... I'm off...' and she tied her apron more
firmly over her head.

'Good-bye, Antkowa.'

'Go with God.'

Dyziakowa went out, while the other woman began to put the room in
order; she scraped the dirt off the floor, swept it up, strewed
wood-ashes, scrubbed her pots and pans and put them in a row. From time
to time she turned a look of hatred on to the bed, spat, clenched her
fists, and held her head in helpless despair.

'Fifteen acres of land, the pigs, three cows, furniture, clothes--half
of it, I'm sure, would come to six thousand... good God!'

And as though the thought of so large a sum was giving her fresh
vigour, she scrubbed her saucepans with a fury that made the walls
ring, and banged them down on the board.

'May you... may you!' She continued to count up: 'Fowls, geese, calves,
all the farm implements. And all left to that trull! May misery eat you
up... may the worms devour you in the ditch for the wrong you have done
me, and for leaving me no better off than an orphan!'

She sprang towards the bed in a towering rage and shouted:

'Get up! 'And when the old man did not move, she threatened him with
her fists and screamed into his face:

'That's what you've come here for, to do your dying here, and I am to
pay for your funeral and buy you a hooded cloak... that's what he
thinks. I don't think! You won't live to see me do it! If your Julina
is so sweet, you'd better make haste and go to her. Was it I who was
supposed to look after you in your dotage? She is the pet, and if you

She did not finish, for she heard the tinkling of the bell, and the
priest entered with the sacrament.

Antkowa bowed down to his feet, wiping tears of rage from her eyes, and
after she had poured the holy water into a chipped basin and put the
asperges-brush beside it, she went out into the passage, where a few
people who had come with the priest were waiting already.

'Christ be praised.'

'In Eternity.'

'What is it?'

'Oh nothing! Only that he's come here to give up... with us, whom he
has wronged. And now he won't give up. Oh dear me... poor me!'

She began to cry.

'That's true! He will have to rot, and you will have to live,' they all
answered in unison and nodded their heads.

'One's own father,' she began again. '... Have we, Antek and I, not
taken care of him, worked for him, sweated for him, just as much as
they? Not a single egg would I sell, not half a pound of butter, but
put it all down his throat; the little drop of milk I have taken away
from the baby and given it to him, because he was an old man and my
father... and now he goes and gives it all to Tomek. Fifteen acres of
land, the cottage, the cows, the pigs, the calf, and the farm-carts and
all the furniture... is that nothing? Oh, pity me! There's no justice
in this world, none... Oh, oh!'

She leant against the wall, sobbing loudly.

'Don't cry, neighbour, don't cry. God is full of mercy, but not always
towards the poor. He will reward you some day.'

'Idiot, what's the good of talking like that?' interrupted the
speaker's husband. 'What's wrong is wrong. The old man will go, and
poverty will stay.'

'It's hard to make an ox move when he won't lift up his feet,' another
man said thoughtfully.

'Eh... You can get used to everything in time, even to hell,' murmured
a third, and spat from between his teeth.

The little group relapsed into silence. The wind rattled the door and
blew snow through the crevices on to the floor. The peasants stood
thoughtfully, with bared heads, and stamped their feet to get warm. The
women, with their hands under their cotton aprons, and huddled
together, looked with patient resigned faces towards the door of the

At last the bell summoned them into the room; they entered one by one,
pushing each other aside. The dying man was lying on his back, his head
deeply buried in the pillows; his yellow chest, covered with white
hair, showed under the open shirt. The priest bent over him and laid
the wafer upon his outstretched tongue. All knelt down and, with their
eyes raised to the ceiling, violently smote their chests, while they
sighed and sniffled audibly. The women bent down to the ground and
babbled: 'Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world.'

The dog, worried by the frequent tinkling of the bell, growled
ill-temperedly in the corner.

The priest had finished the last unction, and beckoned to the dying
man's daughter. 'Where's yours, Antkowa?'

'Where should he be, your Reverence, if not at his daily job?'

For a moment the priest stood, hesitating, looked at the assembly,
pulled his expensive fur tighter round his shoulders; but he could not
think of anything suitable to say; so he only nodded to them and went
out, giving them his white, aristocratic hand to kiss, while they bent
towards his knees.

When he had gone they immediately dispersed. The short December day was
drawing to its close. The wind had gone down, but the snow was now
falling in large, thick flakes. The evening twilight crept into the
room. Antkowa was sitting in front of the fire; she broke off twig
after twig of the dry firewood, and carelessly threw them upon the

She seemed to be purposing something, for she glanced again and again
at the window, and then at the bed. The sick man had been lying quite
still for a considerable time. She got very impatient, jumped up from
her stool and stood still, eagerly listening and looking about; then
she sat down again.

Night was falling fast. It was almost quite dark in the room. The
little girl was dozing, curled up near the stove. The fire was
flickering feebly with a reddish light which lighted up the woman's
knees and a bit of the floor.

The dog started whining and scratched at the door. The chickens on the
ladder cackled low and long.

Now a deep silence reigned in the room. A damp chill rose from the wet

Antkowa suddenly got up to peer through the window at the village
street; it was empty. The snow was falling thickly, blotting out
everything at a few steps' distance. Undecided, she paused in front of
the bed, but only for a moment; then she suddenly pulled away the
feather-bed roughly and determinedly, and threw it on to the other
bedstead. She took the dying man under the armpits and lifted him high

'Magda! Open the door.'

Magda jumped up, frightened, and opened the door.

'Come here...take hold of his feet.'

Magda clutched at her grandfather's feet with her small hands and
looked up in expectation.

'Well, get on...help me to carry him! Don't stare about...carry him,
that's what you've got to do!' she commanded again, severely.

The old man was heavy, perfectly helpless, and apparently unconscious;
he did not seem to realize what was being done to him. She held him
tight and carried, or rather dragged him along, for the little girl had
stumbled over the threshold and dropped his feet, which were drawing
two deep furrows in the snow.

The penetrating cold had restored the dying man to consciousness, for
in the yard he began to moan and utter broken words:

'Julisha...oh God...Ju...'

'That's right, you scream...scream as much as you like, nobody will
hear you, even if you shout your mouth off!'

She dragged him across the yard, opened the door of the pigsty with her
foot, pulled him in, and dropped him close to the wall.

The sow came forward, grunting, followed by her piglets.

'Malusha! malu, malu, malu!'

The pigs came out of the sty and she banged the door, but returned
almost immediately, tore the shirt open on the old man's chest, tore
off his chaplet, and took it with her.

'Now die, you leper!'

She kicked his naked leg, which was lying across the opening, with her
clog, and went out.

The pigs were running about in the yard; she looked back at them from
the passage.

'Malusha! malu, malu, malu!'

The pigs came running up to her, squeaking; she brought out a bowlfull
of potatoes and emptied it. The mother-pig began to eat greedily, and
the piglets poked their pink noses into her and pulled at her until
nothing but their loud smacking could be heard.

Antkowa lighted a small lamp above the fireplace and tore open the
chaplet, with her back turned towards the window. A sudden gleam came
into her eyes, when a number of banknotes and two silver roubles fell

'It wasn't just talk then, his saying that he'd put by the money for
the funeral.' She wrapped the money up in a rag and put it into the

'You Judas! May eternal blindness strike you!'

She put the pots and pans straight and tried to cheer the fire which
was going out.

'Drat it! That plague of a boy has left me without a drop of water.'

She stepped outside and called 'Ignatz! Hi! Ignatz!'

A good half-hour passed, then the snow creaked under stealthy footsteps
and a shadow stole past the window. Antkowa seized a piece of wood and
stood by the door which was flung wide open; a small boy of about nine
entered the room.

'You stinking idler! Running about the village, are you? And not a drop
of water in the house!'

Clutching him with one hand she beat the screaming child with the

'Mummy! I won't do it again.... Mummy, leave off.... Mumm...'

She beat him long and hard, giving vent to all her pent-up rage.

'Mother! Ow! All ye Saints! She's killing me!'

'You dog! You're loafing about, and not a drop of water do you fetch
me, and there's no wood am I to feed you for nothing, and you worrying
me into the bargain?' She hit harder.

At last he tore himself away, jumped out by the window, and shouted
back at her with a tear-choked voice:

'May your paws rot off to the elbows, you dog of a mother! May you be
stricken down, you sow!... You may wait till you're manure before I
fetch you any water!'

And he ran back to the village.

The room suddenly seemed strangely empty. The lamp above the fireplace
trembled feebly. The little girl was sobbing to herself.

'What are you snivelling about?'

'Mummy...oh... oh...grandad...'

She leant, weeping, against her mother's knee.

'Leave off, idiot!'

She took the child on her lap, and, pressing her close, she began to
clean her head. The little thing babbled incoherently, she looked
feverish; she rubbed her eyes with her small fists and presently went
to sleep, still sobbing convulsively from time to time.

Soon afterwards the husband returned home. He was a huge fellow in a
sheepskin, and wore a muffler round his cap. His face was blue with
cold; his moustache, covered with hoar-frost, looked like a brush. He
knocked the snow off his boots, took muffler and cap off together,
dusted the snow off his fur, clapped his stiff hands against his arms,
pushed the bench towards the fire, and sat down heavily.

Antkowa took a saucepan full of cabbage off the fire and put it in
front of her husband, cut a piece of bread and gave it him, together
with the spoon. The peasant ate in silence, but when he had finished he
undid his fur, stretched his legs, and said: 'Is there any more?'

She gave him the remains of their midday porridge; he spooned it up
after he had cut himself another piece of bread; then he took out his
pouch, rolled a cigarette and lighted it, threw some sticks on the fire
and drew closer to it. A good while later he looked round the room.
'Where's the old man?'

'Where should he be? In the pigsty.'

He looked questioningly at her.

'I should think so! What should he loll in the bed for, and dirty the
bedclothes? If he's got to give up, he will give up all the quicker in
there.... Has he given me a single thing? What should he come to me
for? Am I to pay for his funeral and give him his food? If he doesn't
give up now--and I tell you, he is a tough one--then he'll eat us out
of house and home. If Julina is to have everything let her look after
him--that's nothing to do with me.'

'Isn't my father... and cheated us... he has. I don't care.... The old

Antek swallowed the smoke of his cigarette and spat into the middle of
the room.

'If he hadn't cheated us we should now have... wait a minute... we've
got five... and seven and a half... makes... five and... seven...'

'Twelve and a half. I had counted that up long ago; we could have kept
a horse and three cows... bah!... the carrion!'

Again he spat furiously.

The woman got up, laid the child down on the bed, took the little rag
bundle from the chest and put it into her husband's hand.

'What's that?'

'Look at it.'

He opened the linen rag. An expression of greed came into his face, he
bent forward towards the fire with his whole frame, so as to hide the
money, and counted it over twice. 'How much is it?'

She did not know the money values.

'Fifty-four roubles.'

'Lord! So much?'

Her eyes shone; she stretched out her hand and fondled the money.

'How did you come by it?'

'Ah bah... how? Don't you remember the old man telling us last year
that he had put by enough to pay for his funeral?'

'That's right, he did say that.'

'He had stitched it into his chaplet and I took it from him; holy
things shouldn't knock about in a pigsty, that would be sinful; then I
felt the silver through the linen, so I tore that off and took the
money. That is ours; hasn't he wronged us enough?'

'That's God's truth. It's ours; that little bit at least is coming back
to us. Put it by with the other money, we can just do with it. Only
yesterday Smoletz told me he wanted to borrow a thousand roubles from
me; he will give his five acres of ploughed fields near the forest as

'Have you got enough?'

'I think I have.'

'And will you begin to sow the fields yourself in the spring?'

'Rather... if I shouldn't have quite enough now, I will sell the sow;
even if I should have to sell the little ones as well I must lend him
the money. For he won't be able to redeem it,' he added, 'I know what
I know. We shall go to the lawyer and make a proper contract that the
ground will be mine unless he repays the money within five years.'

'Can you do that?'

'Of course I can. How did Dumin get hold of Dyziak's fields?... Put it
away; you may keep the silver, buy what you like with it. Where's

'He's run off somewhere. Ha! no water, it's all gone....'

The peasant got up without a word, looked after the cattle, went in and
out, fetched water and wood.

The supper was boiling in the saucepan. Ignatz cautiously crept into
the room; no one spoke to him. They were all silent and strangely ill
at ease. The old man was not mentioned; it was as if he had never been.

Antek thought of his five acres; he looked upon them as a certainty.
Momentarily the old man came into his mind, and then again the sow he
had meant to kill when she had finished with the sucking-pigs. Again
and again he spat when his eyes fell on the empty bedstead, as if he
wanted to get rid of an unpleasant thought. He was worried, did not
finish his supper, and went to bed immediately after. He turned over
from side to side; the potatoes and cabbage, groats and bread gave him
indigestion, but he got over it and went to sleep.

When all was silent, Antkowa gently opened the door into the next room
where the bundles of flax lay. From underneath these she fetched a
packet of banknotes wrapped up in a linen rag, and added the money. She
smoothed the notes many times over, opened them out, folded them up
again, until she had gazed her fill; then she put out the light and
went to bed beside her husband.

Meanwhile the old man had died. The pigsty, a miserable lean-to run up
of planks and thatched with branches, gave no protection against wind
and weather. No one heard the helpless old man entreating for mercy in
a voice trembling with despair. No one saw him creep to the closed door
and raise himself with a superhuman effort to try and open it. He felt
death gaining upon him; from his heels it crept upwards to his chest,
holding it as in a vice, and shaking him in terrible spasms; his jaws
closed upon each other, tighter and tighter, until he was no longer
able to open them and scream. His veins were hardening till they felt
like wires. He reared up feebly, till at last he broke down on the
threshold, with foam on his lips, and a look of horror at being left to
die of cold, in his broken eyes; his face was distorted by an
expression of anguish which was like a frozen cry. There he lay.

The next morning before dawn Antek and his wife got up. His first
thought was to see what had happened to the old man.

He went to look, but could not get the door of the pigsty to open, the
corpse was barring it from the inside like a beam. At last, after a
great effort, he was able to open it far enough to slip in, but he came
out again at once, terror-stricken. He could hardly get fast enough
across the yard and into the house; he was almost senseless with fear.
He could not understand what was happening to him; his whole frame
shook as in a fever, and he stood by the door panting and unable to
utter a word.

Antkowa was at that moment teaching little Magda her prayer. She turned
her head towards her husband with questioning eyes.

'Thy will be done...' she babbled thoughtlessly.

'Thy will...'

'... be done...'

'... be done...' the kneeling child repeated like an echo.

'Well, is he dead?' she jerked out, '...on earth...'

'... on earth...'

'To be sure, he's lying across the door,' he answered under his breath.

'... as it is in Heaven...'

'... is in Heaven...' 'But we can't leave him there; people might say
we took him there to get rid of him--we can't have that...'

'What do you want me to do with him?'

'How do I know? You must do something.'

'Perhaps we can get him across here?' suggested Antek.

'Look at that now...let him rot! Bring him in here? Not if...'

'Idiot, he will have to be buried.'

'Are we to pay for his funeral?...but deliver us from evil...what are
you blinking your silly eyes for?...go on praying.'

'... deliver...us...from...evil...'

'I shouldn't think of paying for that, that's Tomek's business by law
and right.'

'... Amen...'


She made the sign of the cross over the child, wiped its nose with her
fingers and went up to her husband.

He whispered: 'We must get him across.'

'Into the house...here?'

'Where else?'

'Into the cowshed; we can lead the calf out and lay him down on the
bench, let him lie in state there, if he likes...such a one as he has



'We ought to get him out there.'

'Well, fetch him out then.'

'All right...but...'

'You're afraid, what?'


'What else?'

'It's dark...'

'If you wait till it's day, people will see you.'

'Let's go together.'

'You go if you are so keen.'

'Are you coming, you carrion, or are you not?' he shouted at her; 'he's
your father, not mine.' And he flung out of the room in a rage.

The woman followed him without a word.

When they entered the pigsty, a breath of horror struck them, like the
exhalation from a corpse. The old man was lying there, cold as ice; one
half of his body had frozen on to the floor; they had to tear him off
forcibly before they could drag him across the threshold and into the

Antkowa began to tremble violently at the sight of him; he looked
terrifying in the light of the grey dawn, on the white coverlet of
snow, with his anguished face, wide-open eyes, and drooping tongue on
which the teeth had closed firmly. There were blue patches on his skin,
and he was covered with filth from head to foot.

'Take hold,' whispered the man, bending over him. 'How horribly cold he

The icy wind which rises just before the sun, blew into their faces,
and shook the snow off the swinging twigs with a dry crackle.

Here and there a star was still visible against the leaden background
of the sky. From the village came the creaking noise of the hauling of
water, and the cocks crew as if the weather were going to change.

Antkowa shut her eyes and covered her hands with her apron, before she
took hold of the old man's feet; they could hardly lift him, he was so
heavy. They had barely put him down on a bench when she fled back into
the house, throwing out a linen-rag to her husband to cover the corpse.

The children were busy scraping potatoes; she waited impatiently at the

'Have done...come in!... Lord, how long you are!'

'We must get some one to come and wash him,' she said, laying the
breakfast, when he had come in.

'I will fetch the deaf-mute.'

'Don't go to work to-day.'

'Go...no, not I...'

They did not speak again, and ate their breakfast without appetite,
although as a rule they finished their four quarts of soup between

When they went out into the yard they walked quickly, and did not turn
their heads towards the other side. They were worried, but did not know
why; they felt no remorse; it was perhaps more a vague fear of the
corpse, or fear of death, that shook them and made them silent.

When it was broad day, Antek fetched the village deaf-mute, who washed
and dressed the old man, laid him out, and put a consecrated candle at
his head.

Antek then went to give notice to the priest and to the Soltys of his
father-in-law's death and his own inability to pay for the funeral.

'Let Tomek bury him; he has got all the money.'

The news of the old man's death spread rapidly throughout the village.
People soon began to assemble in little groups to look at the corpse.
They murmured a prayer, shook their heads, and went off to talk it

It was not till towards evening that Tomek, the other son-in-law, under
pressure of public opinion, declared himself willing to pay for the

On the third day, shortly before this was to take place, Tomek's wife
made her appearance at Antek's cottage.

In the passage she almost came nose to nose with her sister, who was
just taking a pail of dishwater out to the cowshed.

'Blessed be Jesus Christ,' she murmured, and kept her hand on the

'Now: look at that... soul of a Judas!' Antkowa put the pail down hard.
'She's come to spy about here. Got rid of the old one somehow, didn't
you? Hasn't he given everything to you... and you dare show yourself
here, you trull! Have you come for the rest of the rags he left here,

'I bought him a new sukmana at Whitsuntide, he can keep that on, of
course, but I must have the sheepskin back, because it has been bought
with money I have earned in the sweat of my brow,' Tomekowa replied

'Have it back, you mangy dog, have it back?' screamed Antkowa. 'I'll
give it you, you'll see what you will have...' and she looked round for
an object that would serve her purpose. 'Take it away? You dare! You
have crawled to him and lickspittled till he became the idiot he was
and made everything over to you and wronged me, and then...'

'Everybody knows that we bought the land from him, there are

'Bought it? Look at her! You mean to say you're not afraid to lie like
that under God's living eyes? Bought it! Cheats, that's what you are,
thieves, dogs! You stole the money from him first, and then.... Didn't
you make him eat out of the pig-pail? Adam is a witness that he had to
pick the potatoes out of the pig-pail, ha! You've let him sleep in the
cowshed, because, you said, he stank so that you couldn't eat. Fifteen
acres of land and a dower-life like that... for so much property! And
you've beaten him too, you swine, you monkey!'

'Hold your snout, or I'll shut it for you and make you remember, you
sow, you trull!'

'Come on then, come on, you destitute creature!' 'I... destitute?'

'Yes, you! You would have rotted in a ditch, the vermin would have
eaten you up, if Tomek hadn't married you.'

'I, destitute? Oh you carrion!' They sprang at each other, clutching at
each other's hair; they fought in the narrow passage, screaming
themselves hoarse all the time.

'You street-walker, you loafer... there! that's one for you! There's
one for my fifteen acres, and for all the wrong you have done me, you
dirty dog!'

'For the love of God, you women, leave off, leave off! It's a sin and a
shame!' cried the neighbours.

'Let me go, you leper, will you let go?'

'I'll beat you to death, I will tear you to pieces, you filth!'

They fell down, hitting each other indiscriminately, knocked over the
pail, and rolled about in the pigwash. At last, speechless with rage
and only breathing hard, they still banged away at each other. The men
were hardly able to separate them. Purple in the face, scratched all
over, and covered with filth, they looked like witches. Their fury was
boundless; they sprang at each other again, and had to be separated a
second time.

At last Antkowa began to sob hysterically with rage and exhaustion,
tore her own hair and wailed: 'Oh Jesus! Oh little child Jesus! Oh
Mary! Look at this pestiferous woman...curse those heathen...oh!
oh!...' she was only able to roar, leaning against the wall.

Tomekowa, meanwhile, was cursing and shouting outside the house, and
banging her heels against the door.

The spectators stood in little groups, taking counsel with each other,
and stamping their feet in the snow. The women looked like red spots
dabbed on to the wall; they pressed their knees together, for the wind
was penetratingly cold. They murmured remarks to each other from time
to time, while they watched the road leading to the church, the spires
of which stood out clearly behind the branches of the bare trees. Every
minute some one or other wanted to have another look at the corpse; it
was a perpetual coming and going. The small yellow flames of the
candles could be seen through the half-open door, flaring in the
draught, and momentarily revealing a glimpse of the dead man's sharp
profile as he lay in the coffin. The smell of burning juniper floated
through the air, together with the murmurings of prayers and the grunts
of the deaf-mute.

At last the priest arrived with the organist. The white pine coffin was
carried out and put into the cart. The women began to sing the usual
lamentations, while the procession started down the long village street
towards the cemetery. The priest intoned the first words of the
Service for the Dead, walking at the head of the procession with his
black biretta on his head; he had thrown a thick fur cloak over his
surplice; the wind made the ends of his stole flutter; the words of the
Latin hymn fell from his lips at intervals, dully, as though they had
been frozen; he looked bored and impatient, and let his eyes wander
into the distance. The wind tugged at the black banner, and the
pictures of heaven and hell on it wobbled and fluttered to and fro, as
though anxious to display themselves to the rows of cottages on either
side, where women with shawls over their heads and bare-headed men were
standing huddled together.

They bowed reverently, made the sign of the cross, and beat their

The dogs were barking furiously from behind the hedges, some jumped on
to the stone walls and broke into long-drawn howls.

Eager little children peeped out from behind the closed windows, beside
toothless used-up old people's faces, furrowed as fields in autumn.

A small crowd of boys in linen trousers and blue jackets with brass
buttons, their bare feet stuck into wooden sandals, ran behind the
priest, staring at the pictures of heaven and hell, and intoning the
intervals of the chant with thin, shivering voices: a! o!... They kept
it up as long as the organist did not change the chant.

Ignatz proudly walked in front, holding the banner with one hand and
singing the loudest of all. He was flushed with exertion and cold, but
he never relaxed, as though eager to show that he alone had a right to
sing, because it was his grandfather who was being carried to the
grave. They left the village behind. The wind threw itself upon Antek,
whose huge form towered above all the others, and ruffled his hair; but
he did not notice the wind, he was entirely taken up with the horses
and with steadying the coffin, which was tilting dangerously at every
hole in the road.

The two sisters were walking close behind the coffin, murmuring prayers
and eyeing each other with furious glances.

'Tsutsu! Go home!...Go home at once, you carrion!' One of the mourners
pretended to pick up a stone. The dog, who had been following the cart,
whined, put her tail between her legs, and fled behind a heap of stones
by the roadside; when the procession had moved on a good bit, she ran
after it in a semi-circle, and anxiously kept close to the horses, lest
she should be prevented again from following.

The Latin chant had come to an end. The women, with shrill voices,
began to sing the old hymn: 'He who dwelleth under the protection of
the Lord.'

It sounded thin. The blizzard, which was getting up, did not allow the
singing to come to much. Twilight was falling.

The wind drove clouds of snow across from the endless, steppe-like
plains, dotted here and there with skeleton trees, and lashed the
little crowd of human beings as with a whip.

'... and loves and keeps with faithful heart His word...,' they
insisted through the whistling of the tempest and the frequent shouts
of Antek, who was getting breathless with cold: 'Woa! woa, my lads!'

Snowdrifts were beginning to form across the road like huge wedges,
starting from behind trees and heaps of stones.

Again and again the singing was interrupted when the people looked
round anxiously into the white void: it seemed to be moving when the
wind struck it with dull thuds; now it towered in huge walls, now it
dissolved like breakers, turned over, and furiously darted sprays of a
thousand sharp needles into the faces of the mourners. Many of them
returned half-way, fearing an increase of the blizzard, the others
hurried on to the cemetery in the greatest haste, almost at a run. They
got through the ceremony as fast as they could; the grave was ready,
they quickly sang a little more, the priest sprinkled holy water on the
coffin; frozen clods of earth and snow rolled down, and the people fled

Tomek invited everybody to his house, because 'the reverend Father had
said to him, that other-wise the ceremony would doubtless end in an
ungodly way at the public-house.'

Antek's answer to the invitation was a curse. The four of them,
including Ignatz and the peasant Smoletz, turned into the inn.

They drank four quarts of spirits mixed with fat, ate three pounds of
sausages, and talked about the money transaction.

The heat of the room and the spirits soon made Antek very drunk. He
stumbled so on the way home that his wife took him firmly under the

Smoletz remained at the inn to drink an extra glass in prospect of the
loan, but Ignatz ran home ahead as fast as he could, for he was
horribly cold.

'Look here, mother...,' said Antek, 'the five acres are mine! aha!
mine, do you hear? In the autumn I shall sow wheat and barley, and in
the spring we will plant potatoes... mine... they are mine!... God is
my comfort, sayest thou...,' he suddenly began to sing.

The storm was raging, and howling.

'Shut up! You'll fall down, and that will be the end of it.'

'... His angel keepeth watch...,' he stopped abruptly. The darkness was
impenetrable, nothing could be seen at a distance of two feet. The
blizzard had reached the highest degree of fury; whistling and howling
on a gigantic scale filled the air, and mountains of snow hurled
themselves upon them.

From Tomek's cottage came the sound of funeral chants and loud talking
when they passed by.

'These heathen! These thieves! You wait, I'll show you my five acres!
Then I shall have ten. You won't lord it over me! Dogs'-breed... aha!
I'll work, I'll slave, but I shall get it, eh, mother? we will get it,
what?' he hammered his chest with his fist, and rolled his drunken

He went on like this for a while, but as soon as they reached their
home, the woman dragged him into bed, where he fell down like a dead
man. But he did not go to sleep yet, for after a time he shouted:

The boy approached, but with caution, for fear of contact with the
paternal foot.

'Ignatz, you dead dog! Ignatz, you shall be a first-class peasant, not
a beggarly professional man,' he bawled, and brought his fist down on
the bedstead.

'The five acres are mine, mine! Foxy Germans,[1] you... da...' He went
to sleep.

[Footnote 1: 'The term 'German' is used for 'foreigner' generally, whom
the Polish peasant despises.]




'Yakob... Yakob... Yakob!'

The old man was repeating his name to himself, or rather he was
inwardly listening to the sound of it which he had been accustomed to
hear for so many years. He had heard it in the stable, in the fields,
and on the grazing-ground, on the steps of the manor-house and at the
Jew's, but never like this. It seemed to issue from unknown depths,
summoning sounds never heard before, sights never yet seen, producing a
confusion which he had never experienced. He saw it, felt it
everywhere; it was itself the cause of a hopeless despair.

This despair crept silently into Yakob's fatalistic and submissive
soul. He felt it under his hand, as though he were holding another
hand. He was as conscious of it as of his hairy chest, his cold and
starved body. This despair, moreover, was blended with a kind of
patient expectancy which was expressed by the whispering of his pale,
trembling lips, the tepid sweat under his armpits, the saliva running
into his throat and making his tongue feel rigid like a piece of wood.

This is what happened: he tried to remember how it had all happened.

They had come swarming in from everywhere; they had taken the men away;
it was firearms everywhere...everywhere firearms, noise and hubbub. The
whole world was pushing, running, sweating or freezing. They arrived
from this side or from that; they asked questions, they hunted people
down, they followed up a trail, they fought. Of course, one must not
betray one's brothers, but then...who are one's brothers?

They placed watches in the mountains, in the forests, on the fields;
they even drove people into the mountain-passes and told them to hold
out at any cost.

Yakob had been sitting in the chimney-corner in the straw and dust,
covered with his frozen rags. The wind swept over the mountains and
penetrated into the cottage, bringing with it a white covering of hoar-
frost; it was sighing eerily in the fields; the fields themselves
seemed to flee from it, and to be alive, running away into the
distance. The earth in white convulsions besieged the sky, and the sky
got entangled in the mountain-forests.

Yakob was looking at the snow which was falling thickly, and tried to
penetrate the veil with his eyes. Stronger and faster raged the
blizzard. Yakob's stare became vacant under the rumbling of the storm
and the driving of the snow; one could not have told whether he was
looking with eyes or with lumps of ice.

Shadows were flitting across the snowdrifts. They were the outlines of
objects lit up by the fire; they trembled on the window-frames; the
fire flickered, and the shadows treacherously caressed the images of
saints on the walls. The beam played on the window, threw a red light
on the short posts of the railing, and disappeared in pursuit of the
wind in the fields.


And he had really had nothing to do with it! It had all gone against
him continuously, pertinaciously, and to no purpose. It had attached
itself to him, clung to the dry flour that flew about in atoms in the
tin where the bit of cheese also was kept. It had bewitched the
creaking of the windows on their hinges; it had stared from the empty
seats along the walls.

But he kept on beating his breast. His forehead was wrinkled in dried-
up folds, his brows bristled fantastically into shaggy, dirty tufts.
His heavy, blunt nose, powdered with hairs at the tip, stood out
obstinately between two deep folds on either side. These folds overhung
the corners of his mouth, and were joined below the chin by a network
of pallid veins. A noise, light as a beetle's wing, came in puffs from
the half-open lips; they were swollen and purple like an overgrown

Yakob had been sitting in Turkish fashion, his hands crossed over his
chest, breathing forth his misery so quietly that it covered him,
together with the hoar-frost, stopped his ears and made the tufts of
hair on his chest glitter. He was hugging his sorrow to himself,
abandoning the last remnant of hope, and longing for deliverance.
Behind the wrinkles of his forehead there swarmed a multitude not so
much of pictures as of ghosts of the past, yet vividly present.

At last he got up and sat down on the bench in the chimney-corner, drew
a pipe from his trouser-pocket and put it between his teeth, forgetting
to light it. He laid his heavy hands round the stem. Beyond the
blizzard and the shadow-play of the flame, there appeared to him the
scene of his wife and daughters' flight. He had given up everything he
possessed, had taken off his sheepskin, had himself loosened the cow
from the post. For a short moment he had caught sight of his wife and
daughters again in the distance, tramping through the snow as they
passed the cross-roads, then they had been swallowed up in a mass of
people, horses, guns, carts, shouts and curses. Since then he had
constantly fancied that he was being called, yet he knew that there was
no one to call him. His thoughts were entirely absorbed in what he had
seen then. With his wife all his possessions had gone. Now there was
nothing but silence, surrounding him with a sharp breath of pain and

By day and by night Yakob had listened to the shots that struck his
cottage and his pear-trees. He chewed a bit of cheese from time to
time, and gulped down with it the bitter fear that his cottage might be
set on fire.

For here and there, like large red poppies on the snow, the glare of
burning homesteads leapt up into the sky.

'Here I am...watching,' he said to himself, when he looked at these
blood-red graves. He smiled at the sticks of firewood on his hearth,
which was the dearest thing on earth to him. The walls of his cottage
were one with his inmost being, and every moment when he saw them
standing, seemed to him like precious savings which he was putting
away. So he watched for several days; the vermin were overrunning the
place, and he was becoming desperate. Since mid-day the silence had
deepened; the day declined, and there was nothing in the world but
solitude and snow.

Yakob went over to the window. The snow was lying deep on the fields,
like a shimmering coat of varnish; the world was bathed in the light of
a pale, wan moon. The forest-trees stood out here and there in blue
points, like teeth. Large and brilliant the stars looked down, and
above the milky way, veiled in vapours, hung the sickle of the moon.

While in the immensity of the night cold and glittering worlds were
bowing down before the eternal, Yakob looked, and noticed something
approaching from the mountains. Along the heights and slopes there was
a long chain of lights; it was opening out from the centre into two
lines on either side, which looked as though they were lost in the
forest. Below them there were confused gleams in the fields, and
behind, in the distance, the glow of the burning homesteads.

'They have burned the vicarage,' thought Yakob, and his heart answered:
'and here am I...watching.'

He pressed against the window-frame, glued his grey face to the panes
and, trembling with cold, sent out an obstinate and hostile glance into
space, as though determined to obtain permission to keep his own

Suddenly he pricked up his ears. Something was approaching from the
distance across the forest very cautiously. The snow was creaking under
the advancing steps. In the great silence it sounded like the forging
of iron. Those were horses' hoofs stamping the snow.

This sound, suppressed as it was, produced in him a peculiar sensation
which starts in the head and grips you in the nape of the neck, the
consciousness that someone is hiding close to you.

Yakob stood quite still at the window, not even moving his pipe from
one corner of his mouth to the other. Not he himself seemed to be
trembling, only his rags.

The door was suddenly thrown open and a soldier appeared on the
threshold. The light of a lantern which was suspended on his chest,
filled the room.

Yakob's blood was freezing. Cossacks, hairy like bears, were standing
in the opening of the door, the snow which covered them was shining
like a white flame. In the courtyard there were steaming horses;
lanceheads were glittering like reliquaries.

Yakob understood that they were calling him 'old man', and asking him
questions. He extended his hands to express that he knew nothing. Some
of the Cossacks entered, and made signs to him to make up the fire.

He noticed that they were bringing more horses into the yard, small,
shaggy ponies like wolves.

He became calmer, and his fear disappeared; he only remained cautious
and observant; everything that happened seemed to take hours, yet he
saw it with precision.

'It is cold...it is cold!'

He made up the fire for these bandits who stretched themselves on the
benches; he felt they were talking and laughing about him, and he
turned to them and nodded; he thought it would please them if he showed
that he approved of them. They asked him about God knows what, where
they were, and where they were not. As though he knew!

Then they started all over again, while they swung their booted legs
under the seats. One of them came up to the hearth, and clapped the
crouching Yakob on his back for fun, but it hurt. It was a resounding
smack. Yakob scratched himself and rumpled his hair, unable to

They boiled water and made tea; a smell of sausages spread about the
room. Yakob bit his jaws together and looked at the fire. He sat in his
place as though he had been glued to it.

His ears were tingling when he heard the soldiers grinding their teeth
on their food, tearing the skin off the sausages and smacking their

A large and painful void was gaping in his inside.

They devoured their food fast and noisily, and an odour of brandy began
to fill the room, and contracted Yakob's throat.

He understood that they were inviting him to share the meal, but he
felt uneasy about that, and though his stomach seemed to have shrunk,
and the sausage-skins and bones which they had thrown away lay quite
close to him, he could not make up his mind to move and pick them up.

'Come on!'

The soldier beckoned to him. 'Come here!'

The old man felt that he was weakening, the savoury smell took
possession of him.

But 'I shan't go,' he thought. The soldier, gnawing a bone, repeated,
'Come on!'

'I shan't go,' thought Yakob, and spat into the fire, to assure himself
that he was not going. All the same...the terribly tempting smell made
him more and more feeble.

At last two of them got up, took him under the arms, and sat him down
between them.

They made signs to him, they held the sausage under his nose; the tea
was steaming, the brandy smelt delicious.

Yakob put his hands on the table, then put them behind him. Black
shadows were gesticulating on the walls. He felt unhappy about sharing
a meal with people without knowing what they were, never having seen or
known them before. They were Russians, thus much he knew. He had a
vision of something that happened long ago, he could not distinctly
remember what it was, for it happened so very long ago; his grandfather
had come home from the fair that was held in the town, shivering and
groaning. There had been outcries and curses.

'They are going to poison me like a dog,' he thought.

The wind was changing and moaning under the roof. The fire flickered up
and went down; the red flame and the darkness were dancing together on
the walls. The wan moon was looking in at the window. Yakob was sitting
on the bench among the soldiers like his own ghost.

'They are surely going to poison me,' he kept repeating to himself. He
was still racking his memory as to what it was that had happened so
long ago to his grandfather during the fair, at the inn. God knows what
it was...who could know anything?

'They are going to poison me!'

His sides were heaving with his breath, he was trying to breathe
carefully, so as not to smell the repast.

The shadows on the walls seemed to jeer at him. The soldiers were
beginning to talk thickly; their mouths, their fingers were shining
with grease. They took off their belts and laid their swords aside. The
one next to Yakob put his arm round his neck and whispered in his ear;
his red mouth was quite close; he passed his hand over Yakob's head,
and brought his arm right round his throat. He was young and he was
talking of his father.

'Daddy,' he said, and put the sausage between his teeth.

Yakob tried to clench his teeth; but he bit the sausage at the same

'Daddy,' said the young soldier again, holding out the sausage for
another bite; he stroked his head, looked into his eyes, and laughed.
Yakob was sorry for himself. Was he to be fed like a half-blind old
man? Couldn't he eat by himself?

When the soldiers saw that Yakob was eating, they burst into shouts of
laughter, and stamped their feet, rattling their spurs.

He knew they were laughing at him, and it made him easier in his mind
to see that he was affording them pleasure. He purposely made himself
ridiculous with the vague idea that he must do something for them in
payment of what they were giving him; they struck him on the
shoulder-blades to see him gasp with his beanlike mouth, and to see the
frightened smile run over his face like a flash of lightning.

He ate as though from bravado, but he ate well. They started drinking
again. Yakob looked at them with eagerness, his arms folded over his
stomach, his head bent forward; the hairy hand of the captain put the
bottle to his mouth.

Now he could laugh his own natural laugh again, and not only from
bravado, for he felt quite happy. His frozen body was getting warmed

He felt as if a great danger had irrevocably passed.

Gradually he became garrulous, although they hardly understood what he
was talking about: 'Yes, the sausage was good... to be sure!' He nodded
his head and clicked his tongue; he also approved of the huge chunks of
bread, and whenever the bottle was passed round, he put his head on one
side and folded his hands, as if he were listening to a sermon. From
his neighbour's encircling black sleeve the old face peeped out with
equanimity, looking like a withering poppy.

'Daddy,' the loquacious Cossack would say from time to time, and point
in the direction of the mountains; tears were standing in his eyes.

Yakob put his swollen hand on his, and waited for him to say more.

The soldier held his hand, pointed in the direction of the mountains
again, and sniffled.

'He respects old age... they are human, there's no denying it,' thought
Yakob, and got up to put more wood on the fire.

They seized hold of him, they would not allow him to do it. A young
soldier jumped up: 'Sit down, you are old.'

Yakob held out his empty pipe, and the captain himself filled it.

So there he sat, among these armed bandits. They were dressed in
sheepskins and warm materials, had sheepskin caps on their heads; there
was he with his bare arms, in well-worn grey trousers, his shirt
fastened together at the neck with a piece of wood. Sitting among them,
defenceless as a centipede, without anyone belonging to him, puffing
clouds of smoke, he inwardly blessed this adventure, in which
everything had turned out so well. The Cossacks looked at the fire, and
they too said: 'This is very nice, very nice.'

To whom would not a blazing fire on a cold winter's night appeal?

They got more and more talkative and asked: 'Where are your wife and
children?' They probably too had wives and children!

'My wife,' he said, 'has gone down to the village, she was afraid.'
They laughed and tapped their chests: 'War is a bad thing, who would
not be afraid?' Yakob assented all the more readily as he felt that for
him the worst was over.

'Do you know the way to the village?' suddenly asked the captain. He
was almost hidden in clouds of tobacco-smoke, but in his eyes there was
a gleam, hard and sinister, like a bullet in a puff of smoke.

Yakob did not answer. How should he not know the way?

They started getting up, buckled on their belts and swords.

Yakob jumped up to give them the rest of the sausages and food which
had been left on the plates. But they would only take the brandy, and
left the tobacco and the broken meat.

'That will be for you...afterwards,' said the young Cossack, took a red
muffler off his neck and put it round Yakob's shoulder.

'That will keep you warm.'

Yakob laughed back at him, and submitted to having the muffler knotted
tightly round his throat. The young soldier drew a pair of trousers
from his kitbag: 'Those will keep you warm, you are old.' He told him a
long story about the trousers; they had belonged to his brother who had
been killed.

'You know, it's lucky to wear things like that. Poor old fellow!'

Yakob stood and looked at the breeches. In the fire-light they seemed
to be trembling like feeble and stricken legs. He laid his hand on them
and smiled, a little defiant and a little touched.

'You may have them, you may have them,' grunted the captain, and
insisted on his putting them on at once.

When he had put them on in the chimney-corner and showed himself, they
were all doubled up with laughter. He looked appalling in the black
trousers which were much too large for him, a grey hood and the red
muffler. His head wobbled above the red line as if it had been fixed on
a bleeding neck. The rags on his chest showed the thin, hairy body, the
stiff folds of the breeches produced an effect as if he were not
walking on the ground but floating above it.

The captain gave the command, the soldiers jumped up and looked once
more round the cottage; the young Cossack put the sausage and meat in a
heap and covered it with a piece of bread. 'For you,' he said once
more, and they turned to leave.

Yakob went out with them to bid them Godspeed. A vague presentiment
seized him on the threshold, when he looked out at the frozen world,
the stars, like nails fixed into the sky, and the light of the moon on
everything. He was afraid.

The men went up to their horses, and he saw that there were others
outside. The wind ruffled the shaggy little ponies' manes and threw
snow upon them. The horses, restless, began to bite each other, and the
Cossacks, scattered on the snow like juniper-bushes, reined them in.

The cottage-door remained open. The lucky horseshoe, nailed to the
threshold, glittered in the light of the hearth, which threw blood-red
streaks between the legs of the table, across the door and beyond it on
to the snow.

'I wonder whether they will ever return to their families?' he thought,
and: 'How queer it is that one should meet people like that.'

He was sorry for them.

The captain touched his arm and asked the way.

'Straight on.'


'No, not far, not at all far.'

'Where is it?'

The little group stood in front of him by the side of their wolf-like
ponies. He drew back into the cottage.

The thought confusedly crossed his mind: 'After all, we did sit
together and ate together, two and two, like friends.'

He began hurriedly, 'Turn to the left at the crossroads, then across
the fields as far as Gregor's cottage...'

The captain made a sign that he did not understand.

He thought: 'Perhaps they will lose their way and make a fuss; then
they will come back to the cottage and eat the meat. I will go with
them as far as the cross-roads.'

They crept down the road, passed the clump of pine-trees which came out
in a point beside the brook, and went along the valley on the slippery
stones. A large block of ice lay across the brook, shaped like a silver
plough; the waves surrounded it as with golden crescents. The snow
creaked under the soldiers' feet. Yakob walked beside them on his
sandals, like a silent ghost.

'Now keep straight on as far as the cross,' he said, pointing to a dark
object with a long shadow. 'I can't see anything,' said the captain. He
accompanied them as far as the cross, by the side of which stood a
little shrine; the wan saint was wearing a crown of icicles.

From that point the village could be seen across the fields. Yakob
discovered that the chain of lights which he had observed earlier in
the evening, had come down from the mountains, for it now seemed to be
close to the village.

Silence reigned in the sleeping world, every step could be heard.

This silence filled Yakob's heart with a wild fear; he turned round
with a feeling of helplessness and looked back at his cottage. Probably
the fire was now going out; a red glow appeared and disappeared on the

Beyond the cross the road lay through low-lying ground, and was crossed
by another road which led abruptly downwards into fields. Yakob

'Come on, old man, come on,' they called to him, and walked on without
waiting for his answer. The Cossacks dug their heels into the rugged
ice of the road, and tumbled about in all directions. They had left
their horses at the cross-roads. Each one kept a close hold on his gun,
so that there should be no noise. They were whispering to each other;
it sounded as if a congregation were murmuring their prayers. Yakob led
them, and mentally he held fast to every bush, every lump of ice,
saying to himself at every step that now he was going to leave them,
they could not miss the road now. But he was afraid.

They no longer whispered, they had become taciturn as they pushed
onwards, stumbling, breathing hard.

'As far as Gregor's cottage, and then no more!'

The effect of the drink was passing off. He rubbed his eyes, drew his
rags across his chest. 'What was he doing, leading these people about
on this night?'

He suddenly stopped where the field-road crossed theirs; the soldiers
in front and behind threw themselves down. It was as if the ground had
swallowed them.

A black horse was standing in the middle of the road, with extended
nostrils. Its black mane, covered with hoar-frost, was tossed about its
head; the saddle-bags, which were fur-lined, swung in the breeze; large
dark drops were falling from its leg to the ground.

'Damn it!' cursed the captain.

The horse looked meekly at them, and stretched its head forward
submissively. Yakob was sorry for the creature; perhaps one could do
something for it. He stood still beside it, and again pointed out the

'I have done enough, I shan't go any further!' He scratched his head
and smiled, thinking that this was a good opportunity for escape.

'Come on,' hissed the captain so venomously in his ear that he marched
forward without delay; they followed.

A dull fear mixed with resentment gripped him with terrible force. He
now ran at the head like a sheep worried by watch-dogs.

They stopped in front of the cottage, silent, breathless, expectant.

Yakob looked at his companions with boundless astonishment. Their faces
under their fur-caps had a tense, cruel look, their brows were
wrinkled, their eyes glittered.

From all sides other Cossacks were advancing.

He noticed only now that there were some lying concealed behind the
fence on the straw in a confused mass.

He shuddered; thick drops of perspiration stood on his forehead. The
beating of his heart filled his head like the noise of a hammer, it
seemed to fill everything. In spite of the feeling that he was being
forced to do this thing, he again heard the voice calling: 'Yakob,

Up the hillock where Gregor's cottage stood, they advanced on all

He clambered upwards, thinking of his wife, and of the cow he had
loosed. Fear veiled his eyes, he saw black spots dancing.

Gregor's cottage was empty as a graveyard. It had been abandoned; the
open doors creaked on their hinges. Under the window stood a cradle,
covered with snow.

Silently the soldiers surrounded the cottage, and Yakob went with them,
as though mesmerized by terror, mute and miserable.

They had hardly got round, when a red glow shot up from the other side
of the village. The soldiers threw themselves down in the snow.

The thundering of guns began on all sides; blood-red lights came flying
overhead. An appalling noise broke out, reinforced by the echo from the
mountains, as though the whole world were going to perish. The Cossacks
advanced, trembling.

Yakob advanced with them, for the captain had hit him across the head.
He saw stars when he received the blow, gesticulated wildly, and
staggered along the road.

He could distinguish the road running out from the forest like a silver
thread. As they advanced, they came under a diabolically heavy rifle
fire; bullets were raining upon them from all sides.

Here and there he heard moans already, when one of the soldiers fell
bleeding on the snow. Close to him fell the young Cossack who had given
him the muffler and breeches. He held out his hand, groaning. Yakob
wanted to stop, but the captain would not let him, but rapped him over
the head again with his knuckles.

The soldiers lay in heaps. The rest wavered, fell back, hid in the
ditch or threw themselves down. The rifle-fire came nearer, the
outlines and faces of the advancing enemy could already be
distinguished. Another blow on the head stretched Yakob to the ground,
and he feigned death. The Cossacks retreated, the others advanced, and
he understood that they belonged to his friends.

When he got up, he was immediately surrounded by them, taken by the
scruff of the neck and so violently shaken, that he tumbled on his
knees. Gunfire was roaring from the mountains, shadows of soldiers
flitted past him, the wounded Cossacks groaned in the snow. Young,
well-nourished looking men were bending over him.

Looking up into their faces, he crossed his hands over his chest and
laughed joyfully.

'Ah, those Russians, those Russians...the villains!' he croaked, 'aho,
aho, ho hurlai!' He rolled his tear-filled eyes.

Things were happening thick and fast. From where the chimney stood
close to the water, near the manor-house, the village was burning. He
could feel the heat and soot and hear the shouting of the crowd through
the noise of the gunfire. Now he would see his wife and children again,
the friendly soldiers surely had saved them. The young Cossack was
still struggling on the ground; now he stretched himself out for his
eternal sleep. 'Ah, the villains!' Yakob repeated; the great happiness
which filled his heart rushed to his lips in incoherent babblings. 'The
villains, they have served me nicely!'

He felt his bleeding head, crouched on his heels and got up. The fleshy
red faces were still passing close to him, breathing harder and harder.
Fear rose and fell in him like the flames of the burning village; again
everything was swallowed up in indescribable noise.

Suddenly Yakob began to sob; he threw himself down at the soldiers'
feet and wept bitterly, as though he would weep out his soul and the
marrow of his bones.

They lifted him up, almost unconscious, and took him along the high
road, under escort with fixed bayonets. His tears fell fast upon the
snow, and thus he came into his own village, among his own people, pale
as a corpse, with poison in his heart.

He looked dully at the blazing wooden church-spire where it stood
enveloped in flames as though wrapped in an inflated glittering cloak.
Dully he let his eyes wander over the hedges and fences; everything
seemed unreal, as things seen across a distant wave or a downpour of
rain, out of reach and strange.

He was standing where the field-path joined the high road. The soldiers
sat down on a heap of stones and lighted their cigarettes.

Yakob, trembling all over, looked at his own black shadow; fugitives
arrived from the burning village and swarmed past him; the rifle fire
now sounded from the direction of the mountains.

Suddenly Gregor's cottage burst into flames. A blood-red glow inflated
the clouds of smoke, trembled on the snow and ran over the pine-trees
like gold.

Soldiers were arriving from that direction, streaming with blood,
supported by their comrades.

Yakob stood motionless, looking at his shadow; fear was burning within
him. He looked at the sky above the awful chaos on the earth, and
became calmer. He tried to remember how it had all happened.

They had come, had given him food. His wife and children were probably
safe in the manor-house. Blinking his swollen eyelids, he tried to
deceive himself, crouched down near the guard who was smoking, and
asked him for fire. His fear miraculously disappeared.

He began to talk rapidly to the soldier: 'I was sitting...the wind was
moaning...' he told him circumstantially how he was sitting, what he
had been thinking, how the shots had struck his cottage.

The soldier put his rifle between his knees, crossed his hands over his
sleeves, spat out and sighed.

'But you have had underhand dealings with the Russians.'


'Tell that to another.'

'I shall,' replied Yakob calmly.

'And who showed them the way?'

'Who?' said Yakob.

'Who showed them the way over here? Or did they find it on the map?'

'Yes, on the map,' assented Yakob, as though he were quite convinced.

'Well, who did?' said the soldier, wagging his head.

'Who?' repeated Yakob like an echo.

'I suppose it wasn't I?' said the soldier.

'I?' asked Yakob.

The other three soldiers approached inquisitively to where Yakob was

'A nice mess you've made,' one of them said, pointing to the wounded
who were arriving across the fields. 'Do you understand?'

Yakob fixed his eyes on the soldiers' boots, and would not look in
that, direction. But he could not understand what it all meant...all
this noise, and the firing that ran from hill to hill.

'Nice mess this you've made, old man.'



Yakob looked up at them, and had the sensation of being deep down at
the bottom of a well instead of crouching at their feet.

'That is a lie, a lie, a lie!' he cried, beating his chest; his hair
stood on end. The soldiers sat down in a row on the stones. They were
young, cold, tired.

'But now they'll play the deuce with you.'

'Why?' said Yakob softly, glancing sideways at them.

'You're an old ass,' remarked one of them.

'But,' he began again, 'I was sitting, looking at the snow....'

He had a great longing to talk to them, they looked as if they would
understand, although they were so young.

'I was sitting...give me some fire...do you come from these parts
yourselves?' They did not answer.

He thought of his cottage, the bread and sausage, the black horse at
the cross-roads.

'They beat me,' he sobbed, covering his face with his rags.

The soldiers shrugged their shoulders: 'Why did you let them?'

'O...O...O!' cried the old man. But tears would no longer wash away a
conviction which was taking possession of him, searing his soul as the
flames seared the pines. 'Why did you let them? Aren't you ashamed of

No, he was not ashamed of himself for that. But that he had shown them
the way...the way they had come by...what did it all mean? All his
tears would not wash away this conviction: that he had shown them the
way...the way they had come by.

Guns were thundering from the hills, the village was burning, the mill
was burning...a black mass of people was surrounding him. More and more
wounded came in from the fields, covered with grey mud. The flying
sparks from the mill fell at his feet.

A detachment of soldiers was returning.

'Get up, old man,' cried his guard; 'we're off!' Yakob jumped to his
feet, hitched up his trousers, and went off perplexed, under cover of
four bayonets that seemed to carry a piece of sky between them like a
starred canopy.

His fear grew as he approached the village. He did not see the familiar
cottages and hedges; he felt as though he were moving onwards without a
goal. Moving onwards and yet not getting any farther. Moving onwards
and yet hoping not to get to the end of the journey.

He sucked his pipe and paid no attention to anything; but the village
was on his conscience.

The fear which filled his heart was nob like that which he had felt
when the Cossacks arrived, but a senseless fear, depriving him of sight
and hearing...as though there were no place for him in the world.

'Are we going too fast?' asked the guard hearing Yakob's heavy

'All right, all right,' he answered cheerfully. The friendly words had
taken his fear away.

'Take it easy,' said the soldier. 'We will go more slowly. Here's a dry
cigarette, smoke.'

Without turning round, he offered Yakob a cigarette, which he put
behind his ear.

They entered the village. It smelt of burning, like a gipsy camp. The
road seemed to waver in the flickering of the flames, the wind howled
in the timber.

Yakob looked at the sky. Darkness and stars melted into one.

He would not look at the village. He knew there were only women and
children in the cottages, the men had all gone. This thought was a
relief to him, he hardly knew why.

Meanwhile the detachment of soldiers, instead of going to the
manor-house, had turned down a narrow road which led to the mill. They
stopped and formed fours. Every stone here was familiar to Yakob, and
yet, standing in the snow up to his knees, he was puzzled as to where
he was. If he could only sleep off this nightmare...he did not
recognize the road...the night was far advanced, and the village not
asleep as usual...if they would only let him go home!

He would return to-morrow.

The mill was burning out. Cinders were flying across from the
granaries; the smoke bit into the eyes of the people who were standing
about looking upwards, with their arms crossed.

Everything showed up brilliantly in the glare; the water was dripping
from rung to rung of the silent wheel, and mixed its sound with that of
the fire.

The adjoining buildings were fenced round with a small running fire;
smoke whirled round the tumbling roof like a shock of hair shot through
with flames. The faces of the bystanders assumed a metallic glow.

The wails of the miller and his family could be heard through the noise
of battle, of water, and of fire.

It was as if the crumbling walls, the melting joints, the smoke, the
cries were dripping down the wheel, transformed into blood, and were
carried down by the black waves and swallowed up in the infinite abyss
of the night.

'They beat me....' Yakob justified himself to himself, when the tears
rose to his eyes again. No tears could wash away the conviction that it
was he who had shown them the way by which they had come.

The first detachment was waiting for the arrival of the second. It
arrived, bringing in prisoners, Cossacks. A large number of them were
being marched along; they did not walk in order but irregularly, like
tired peasants. They were laughing, smoking cigarettes, and pushing
against each other. Among them were those who had come to his cottage;
he recognized the captain and others.

When they saw Yakob they waved their hands cordially and called out to
him, 'Old man, old man!'

Yakob did not reply; he shrunk into himself. Shame filled his soul. He
looked at them vacantly. His forehead was wrinkled as with a great
effort to remember something, but he could think of nothing but a huge
millwheel turning under red, smooth waves. Suddenly he remembered: it
was the young Cossack who had given him his brother's clothes.

'The other one,' he shouted, pointing to his muffler, 'where did you
leave him?'

Soldiers came between them and pushed the crowd away.

There was a terrific crash in the mill; a thick red cloud rushed
upwards, dotted with sparks. Under this cloud an ever-increasing mass
of people was flocking towards the spot where Yakob was; they were
murmuring, pulling the soldiers by their cloaks. Women, children, and
old men pressed in a circle round him, gesticulating, shouting: 'It was

Words were lost in the chaos of sounds, faces became merely a dense
mass, above which fists were flung upwards like stones.

Yakob tripped about among the soldiers like a fawn in a cage, raised
and lowered his head, and clutched his rags; he could not shut his
quivering mouth, and from his breast came a cry like the sob of a

The crowd turned upon him with fists and nails; he hid his face in his
rags, stopped his ears with his fingers, and shook his head.

The prisoners had been dispatched, and it was Yakob's turn to be taken
before the officer in command of the battalion.

'Say that I...that I...' Yakob entreated his guard.

'What are you in such a hurry for?'

'Say that I...'

The soldiers were sitting round a camp-fire, piling up the faggots.
Soup was boiling in a cauldron.

'Say that I...' he begged again, standing in the thick smoke.

At last he was taken into the school-house.

The officer in command stood in the middle of the room with a cigarette
between his fingers.

'I...I...' groaned Yakob, already in the door. His dishevelled hair
made him look like a sea-urchin; his face was quite disfigured with
black marks of violence; behind his bleeding left ear still stuck the
cigarette. His swollen upper lip was drawn sideways and gave him the
expression of a ghastly smile. His eyes looked out helpless,
dispirited, from his swollen lids.

'What do you want to say?' asked the officer, without looking at him.
Something suddenly came over him.

'It was I,' he said hoarsely.

The soldier made his report.

'They gave me food,' Yakob said, 'and this muffler and breeches, and
they beat me.'

'It was you who showed them the way?'

'It was.'

'You did show them the way?'

He nodded.

'Did they beat you in the cottage?'

Yakob hesitated. 'In the cottage we were having supper.'

'They beat you afterwards, on the way?'

He again hesitated, and looked into the officer's eyes. They were
clear, calm eyes. The guard came a step nearer.

The officer looked down, turned towards the window and asked more
gently: 'You had supper together in the cottage. Then you went out with
them. Did they beat you on the way?'

He turned suddenly and looked at Yakob. The peasant stood, looked at
the grey snowflakes outside the window, and his face, partly black,
partly pallid, was wrinkled in deep folds.

'Well, what have you got to say?'

'It was I...' This interrogation made him alternately hot and cold.

'You who beat them, and not they who beat you?' laughed the officer.

'The meat is still there in the cottage, and here is what they gave
me,' he said, holding up the muffler and tobacco.

The officer threw his cigarette away and turned on his heel. Yakob's
eyes became dull, his arm with the muffler dropped.

The officer wrote an order. 'Take him away.' They passed the
schoolmaster and some women and soldiers in the passage.

'Well...well...' they whispered, leaning against the wall.

The guard made a sign with his hand. Yakob, behind him, looked dully
into the startled faces of the bystanders.

'How frightened he looks...how they have beaten him...how frightened he
looks!' they murmured.

He put the muffler round his neck again, for he felt cold.

'That's him, that's him,' growled the crowd outside.

The manor-house was reached. The light from the numerous windows fell
upon horses and gun-carriages drawn up in the yard.

'What do you want?' cried the sentry to the crowd, pushing them back.

He nodded towards Yakob. 'Where is he to go?'

'That sort...' murmured the crowd. Yakob's guard delivered his order.
They stopped in the porch. The pillars threw long shadows which lost
themselves towards the fence and across the waves of the stream beyond,
in the darkness of the night.

The heat in the waiting-room was overpowering. This was the room where
the bailiff had so often given him his pay. The office no longer
existed. Soldiers were lying asleep everywhere.

They passed on into a brilliantly lighted room. The staff was quartered
there. The general took a few steps across the room, murmured something
and stood still in front of Yakob.

'Ah, that is the man?' he turned and looked at Yakob with his blue eyes
that shot glances quick as lightning from under bushy grey eyebrows.

'It was I,' ejaculated Yakob hoarsely.

'It was you who showed them the way?'

Yakob became calmer. He felt he would be able to make himself more
quickly understood here. 'It was.'

'You brought them here?'


He passed his hand over his hair and shrank into himself again. He
looked at the brilliant lights.

'Do you know what is the punishment for that?'

The general came a step nearer; Yakob felt overawed by the feeling of
strength and power that emanated from him. He was choking. Yes, he
understood and yet did not understand.'

'What have you got to say for yourself!'

'We had supper together...' he began, but stopped, for the general
frowned and eyed him coldly. Yakob looked towards the window and
listened to hear the sound of wind and waves. The general was still
looking at him, and so they stood for a moment which seemed an eternity
to Yakob, the man in the field-grey uniform who looked as if he had
been sculptured in stone, and the quailing, shrunken, shivering form,
covered with dirt and rags. Yakob felt as though a heavy weight were
resting on him. Then both silently looked down.

'Take him back to the battalion.'

The steely sound of the command moved something in the souls of the
soldiers, and took the enjoyment of their sleep from them.

They returned to the school-house. The crowd, as though following a
thief caught in the act, ran by their side again.

They found room for the old man in a shed, some one threw him a
blanket. Soldiers were sleeping in serried ranks. Their heavy breathing
mixed with the sound of wind and waves, and the cold blue light of the
moon embraced everything.

Yakob buried himself in the straw, looked out through a hole in the
boarding and wept bitterly.

'What are you crying for?' asked the sentry outside, and tapped his
shoulder with his gun.

Yakob did not answer.

'Thinking of your wife?' the soldier gossiped, walking up and down
outside the shed. 'You're old, what good is your wife to you?' The
soldier stopped and stretched his arms till the joints cracked.

'Or your children? Never mind, they'll get on in the world without a
helpless old man like you.'

Yakob was silent, and the soldier crouched down near him.

'Old man, you ought...'

'No...' tremblingly came from the inside.

'You see,' the soldier paced up and down again, 'you are thinking of
your cottage. I can understand that. But do you think the cottage will
be any the worse off for your death?'

The soldier's simple and dour words outside in the blue night, his talk
of Yakob's death, of his own death which might come at any moment,
slowly brought sleep to Yakob.

In the morning he awoke with a start. The sun was shining on the snow,
the mountains glittered like glass. The trees on the slopes were
covered with millions of shining crystals; freshness floated between
heaven and earth. Yakob stepped out of the shed, greeted the sentry and
sat down on the boards, blinking his eyes.

The air was fresh and cold, tiny atoms of hoarfrost were flying about.
Yakob felt the sun's warmth thawing his limbs, caressing him. He let
himself be absorbed into the pure, rosy morning.

Doors creaked, and voices rang out clear and fresh. Opposite to him a
squadron of Uhlans were waiting at the farrier's, who came out, black
as a charcoal-burner, and chatted with them. They were laughing, their
eyes shone. From inside the forge the hammer rang out like a bell.
Yakob held his head in his hand and listened. At each stroke he shut
his eyes. The soldiers brought him a cup of hot coffee; he drank it and
lighted his pipe.

The murmuring of the brook, punctuated by the hammer-strokes,
stimulated his thoughts till they became clearer, limpid as the stream.

'It was I...it was I...' he silently confided to all the fresh voices
of the morning.

The guard again took him away with fixed bayonets. He knew where he was
going. They would go through the village and stop at the wall of the

The sky was becoming overcast, the beauty of the morning was waning.
They called at the school-house for orders. Yakob remained outside the
open window.

'I won't...' he heard a voice.

'Nor I...' another.

Yakob leant against the fence, supported his temples on his fists and
watched the snow-clouds and mists.

A feeling of immense, heavy weariness came over him, and made him limp.
He could see the ruins of the mill, the tumbled-down granaries, the
broken doors. The water trickled down the wheel; smoke and soot were
floating on the water, yet the water flowed on.

Guilty...not guilty.... What did it all matter?

'Do you hear?' he asked of the water. 'Do you hear?' he asked of his
wife and children and his little property.

They took him here and they took him there. They made him wait outside
houses, and he sat down on the steps as if he had never been used to
anything else. He picked up a dry branch and gently tapped the snow
with it and waited. He waited as in a dream, going round and round the
wish that it might all be over soon.

While he was waiting, the crowd amused themselves with shaking their
fists at him; he was thankful that his wife seemed to have gone away to
the town and did not see him.

At last his guard went off in a bad temper. A soldier on horseback
remained with him.

'Come on, old man,' he said, 'no one will have anything to do with it.'

Yakob glanced at him; the soldier and his horse seemed to be towering
above the cottages, above the trees of the park with their flocks of
circling crows. He looked into the far distance.

'It was I.'

'You're going begging, old man.'

Again they began their round, and behind them followed the miller's
wife and other women. His legs were giving way, as though they were
rushes. He took off his cap and gave a tired look in the direction of
his cottage.

At last they joined a detachment which was starting off on the old
road. They went as far as Gregor's cottage, then to the cross-roads,
and in single file down the path. From time to time isolated gunshots
rang out.

They sat down by the side of a ditch.

'We've got to finish this business,' said the sergeant, and scratched
his head. 'No one would come forward voluntarily... I have been

The soldiers looked embarrassed and drew away, looking at Yakob.

He hid his head between his knees, and his thoughts dwelt on
everything, sky, water, mountains, fire.

His heart was breaking; a terrible sweat stood on his brows.

Shots rang out.

A deep groan escaped from Yakob's breast, a groan like a winter-wind.
He sprang up, stood on the edge of the ditch, sighed with all the
strength of his old breast and fell like a branch.

Puffs of smoke rose from the ditch and from the forests.



[An incident during the early part of the World War, when the Russians,
retreating before the victorious Austro-German armies, destroyed




At the time when the bridges over the Vistula still existed, connecting
by stone and iron the banks of the town now split in two, I drove to
the opposite side of the river into the country to my abandoned home,
for I thought I might still succeed in transporting to the town the
rest of the articles I had left behind, and so preserve them from a
doubtful fate.

I was specially anxious to bring back the cases full of books that had
been early packed and duly placed in a garret. They included one part
of the library that had long ago been removed, but owing to their
considerable weight they had been passed over in the hurry of the first

The house had been locked up and entrusted to the sure care of Martin,
an old fellow bent half to the ground, who with his wife also kept an
eye on the rest of the buildings, the garden, and the forest.

When I arrived I found the whole of my wild, forgotten forest-world
absolutely changed and transformed into one great camp. But the empty
wood was moving like a living thing, like the menacing 'Birnam wood'
before the eyes of Macbeth. It was full of an army, with each of their
handsome big horses tied to a pine in the forest. Farther off across
the roots could be seen small grey tents stretched on logs. Most of the
exhausted blackened men were lying all over the ground and sleeping
among the quiet beasts. Along the peaceful, silky forest paths, in a
continuous line, like automobiles in the Monte Pincio park, stood small
field kitchens on wheels, gunpowder boxes, and carts.

At the foot of the forest, on the flowery meadow, unmown this year,
were feeding pretty Ukraine cattle driven from some distant place.
Quiet little sheep, not brought up in our country, were eating grass on
a neighbouring hillock.

Martin's bent figure was hastily coming along the road from the house,
making unintelligible signs. When he was quite close he explained in a
low discontented voice, and as if washing his hands of all
responsibility, that I had been robbed. 'I was going round,' he said,
'this very morning, as it was my duty to do. There was no one to be
seen. Now the whole forest is full of soldiers. They came, opened the
house, and stole absolutely everything. My wife came upon them as they
were going out!'

'What? Stole everything?' I asked.

Martin was silent a moment; at last he said: 'Well, for instance, the
samovar; absolutely everything!'

I found the front door, in fact, wide open, and in it Martin's wife,
with gloom depicted on her face. The floors were covered with articles
dragged out of the drawers in the rooms on the upper floor. In the
garrets scores of books in the most appalling disorder were scattered
from out of parcels and boxes. Unbound volumes had been shaken, so that
single sheets and maps were found in various places or not found at

I went into the veranda. In the green of the astonished garden, now
paling in the dusk, men were sleeping here and there. There was a

Book of the day: