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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:

'Help...help!'

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
with apprehension.

'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,
and something....'

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....'

'He's drowned!'

'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
father's shoulder.

'You see!' whispered Slimak.

'But he was in the backyard a minute ago.'

Slimak did not answer, he supported Stasiek's head and stumbled
forward.

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
warmer.'

The schoolmaster nudged Maciek: 'How is he?'

'What do I know? She says he's better, but the boy doesn't move, no, he
doesn't move.'

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.

'Never.'

'And has he never been ill?'

'Never.'

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
eyes.

'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
done?'

'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
schoolmaster, departing.

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.'

'Oh, no!'

'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
the Madonna.

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
not whither.

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.'




CHAPTER IX


Autumn came with drab, melancholy stubble fields; the bushes in the
ravines turned red; the storks hastily left the barns and flew south;
in the few woods that remained, the birds were silent, human beings had
deserted the fields; only here and there some old German women in blue
petticoats were digging up the last potatoes. Even the navvies had
left, the embankment was finished, and they had dispersed all over the
world. Their place was taken by a light railway bringing rails and
sleepers. At first you were only aware of smoke in the distant west; in
a few days' time you discovered a chimney, and presently found that
that chimney was fixed to a large cauldron which rolled along without
horses, dragging after it a dozen wagons full of wood and iron.
Whenever it stopped men jumped out and laid down the wood, fastened the
iron to it and drove off again. These were the proceedings which Maciek
was watching daily.

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

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

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

Yes, there it was! Had not the Galician harvesters told him of an
engine that went by itself? Had they not drunk through his money with
which he was to buy boots?

'To be sure, they told me true, it goes by itself; but it creeps like
old Sobieska,' he added, to comfort himself. Yet, deep down in his
heart he was afraid of this new contrivance and felt that it boded no
good to the neighbourhood. And though he reasoned inconsequently he was
right, for with the appearance of the railway engines there also came
much thieving. From pots and pans, drying on the fences, to horses in
the stables, nothing was safe. The Germans had their bacon stolen from
the larder; the gospodarz Marcinezak, who returned rather tipsy from
absolution, was attacked by men with blackened faces and thrown out of
his cart, with which the robbers drove off at breakneck speed. Even the
poor tailor Niedoperz, when crossing a wood, was relieved of the three
roubles he had earned with so much labour.

The railway brought Slimak no luck either. It became increasingly
difficult to buy fodder for the animals, and no one now asked him to
sell his produce. The salted butter, and other produce of which he had
laid in a stock, went bad, and they had to eat the fowls themselves.
The Germans did all the trading with the railway men, and even in the
little town no one looked at the peasant's produce.

So Slimak sat in his room and did no work. Where should he find work?
He sat by the stove and pondered. Would things continue like this?
would there always be too little hay? would no one buy from him? would
there be no end to the thieving? What was not under lock and key in the
farm-buildings was no longer safe.

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

'Things are going badly,' said Slimakowa.

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

Gradually poor Stasiek was forgotten. Sometimes his mother laid one
spoon too many, and then wiped her eyes with her kerchief, sometimes
Magda thoughtlessly called Jendrek by his brother's name or the dog
would run round the buildings looking for some one, and then lay down
barking, with his head on the ground. But all this happened more and
more rarely.

Jendrek had been restless since his brother's death; he did not like to
sit indoors when there was nothing to do, and roamed about. His rambles
frequently ended in a visit to the schoolmaster; out of curiosity he
examined the books, and as he knew some of the letters, the
schoolmaster's daughter amused herself by teaching him to spell. The
boy would purposely stumble over his words so that she should correct
him and touch his shoulder to point out the mistake.

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

Under ordinary circumstances Jendrek's behaviour would have attracted
his parents' attention, but they were entirely engrossed in another
subject. Every day convinced them more firmly of the fact that they had
too little fodder and a cow too many. They did not say so to each
other, but no one in the house thought of anything else. The gospodyni
thought of it when she saw the milk get less in the pails, Magda had
forebodings and caressed the cows in turns, Maciek, when unobserved,
even deprived the horses of a handful of hay, and Slimak would stand in
front of the cowshed and sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

'Well, then, what will you do?'

'How do I know?'

'Perhaps one could...'

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

The word had fallen.

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

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

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

'How can I tell?'

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

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

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

'Lead her out,' urged the butchers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Ought I to have sold you? I should never have done it if the merciful
God had not been angry with us; but we might all starve.'

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

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

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

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

'Fodder won't help you. A peasant among settlers will always be at a
disadvantage,' said the old man, with his pipe between his teeth. 'Sell
me your land; I'll give you a hundred roubles an acre.'

Slimak shook his head. 'You are mad, Pan Hamer, I don't know what you
mean. Isn't it enough that I am obliged to sell the beast? Now you want
me to sell everything. If you want me to leave, carry me out into the
churchyard. It is nothing to you Germans to move from place to place,
you are a roving people and have no country, but a peasant is like a
stone by the wayside. I know everything here by heart. I have moved
every clod of earth with my own hands; now you say: sell and go
elsewhere. Wherever I went I should be dazed and lost; when I looked at
a bush I should say: that did not grow at home; the soil would be
different and even the sun would not set in the same place. And what
should I tell my father if he were to come looking for me when it gets
too hot for him in Purgatory? He would ask me how I was to find his
grave again, and Stasiek's, poor Stasiek who has laid down his head,
thanks to you!'

Hamer was trembling with rage.

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

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

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

He turned away abruptly.

'And I don't want that lad to stroll in and out of the settlement,' he
called back, 'I don't keep a schoolmaster here for you!'

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

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

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

There were fresh lamentations at home; Magda was blubbering because she
had been given notice. Slimak sat down on the bench and listened to his
wife comforting the girl.

'It's true, we are not short of food,' she said, 'but how am I to get
the money for your wages? You are a big girl and ought to have a rise
after the New Year. We haven't enough work for you; go to your uncle at
once, tell him how things are going from bad to worse here, and fall at
his feet and ask him to find you another place. Please God, you will
come back to us.' 'Ho,' murmured Maciek from his corner, 'there's no
returning; when you're gone, you're gone; first the cow, then Magda,
now my turn will come.'

'Oh, you, Maciek, you will stay,' said Slimakowa, 'there must be some
one to look after the horses, and if we don't give you your wages one
year, you'll get them the next, but we can't do that to Magda, she is
young.'

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

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

'What shall I do?' he ruminated, 'shall I try to set up as a carpenter,
or shall I apply to his Reverence for advice? I might ask him at the
same time to say a Mass, but maybe he would say the Mass and not give
the advice. It will all come right; God strikes until His hand is
tired; then He looks down in favour again on those who suffer
patiently.' So he waited.

Magda had found another situation by November; her place in the
gospodarstwo soon grew cold, no one thought or talked of her, and only
the gospodyni asked herself sometimes: 'Were there really a Stasiek in
this room once and a Magda pottering about, and three cows in the
shed?'

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

Burek confirmed this opinion by much howling.

One very dark night, when sleet was falling, Maciek heard him barking
more furiously than usual, and attacking some one in the direction of
the ravines. He jumped up and waked Slimak; armed with hatchets they
waited in the yard. A heavy tread approached behind the barn as of some
one carrying a load. 'At them!' they urged Burek, who, feeling himself
backed up, attacked furiously.

'Shall we go for them?' asked Maciek.

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

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

Something heavy fell to the ground.

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

'Catch him!' cried Slimak and Maciek simultaneously, but the thief had


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