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'They will give you twice as much as you possess; I possess twenty-five
acres, so I shall have fifty. How many have you got?'


'Then you will have twenty, and Magda will get another two and a half
with her own.'

'Is it certain about the servituty?'

'Who can tell? some say it is, others laugh about it. But I am thinking
I will buy this land while there is the chance, especially as my wife
does not wish it.'

'Then what is the good of buying the land if you will shortly get it
for nothing?'

'The truth is, as it's not my money I don't care how I spend it. If I
were you I shouldn't be in a hurry to rent from the manor either; there
is no harm in waiting. The wise man is never in a hurry.'

'No, the wise man goes slowly,' Slimak deliberated.

The gospodyni appeared at that moment with Maciek. They went into the
alcove, drew two chairs and the cherrywood table into the middle of it,
covered it with a cloth and placed a petroleum lamp without a chimney
on it.

'Come, Soltys,' called the gospodyni,' you will have supper more
comfortably in here.'

Maciek, with a broad smile, retired awkwardly behind the stove as the
two gospodarze went into the alcove.

'What a beautiful room,' said Grochowski, looking round, 'plenty of
holy pictures on the walls, a painted bed, a wooden floor and flowers
in the windows. That must be your doing, gospodyni?'

'Why, yes,' said the woman, pleased, 'he is always at the manor or in
the town and doesn't care about his home; it was all I could do to make
him lay the floor. Be so kind as to sit near the stove, neighbour, I'll
get supper.'

She poured out a large bowl of peeled barley soup and put it on the
table, and a small one for Maciek.

'Eat in God's name, and if you want anything, say so.'

'But are not you going to sit down?'

'I always eat last with the children. Maciek, you may take your bowl.'

Maciek, grinning, took his portion and sat down on a bench opposite the
alcove, so that he could see the Soltys and listen to human
intercourse, for which he was longing. He looked contentedly from
behind his steaming bowl at the table; the smoking lamp seemed to him
the most brilliant illumination, and the wooden chairs the height of
comfort. The sight of the Soltys, who was lolling back, filled him with
reverence. Was it not he who had driven him to the recruiting-office
when it was the time for the drawing of lots? who had ordered him to be
taken to the hospital and told him he would come out completely cured?
who collected the taxes and carried the largest banner at the
processions and intoned 'Let us praise the Holy Virgin'? And now he,
Maciek Owczarz, was sitting under one roof with this same Grochowski.

How comfortable he made himself! Maciek tried to lean back in the same
fashion, but the scandalized wall pushed him forward, reminding him
that he was not the Soltys. So although his back ached, he bent still
lower and hid his feet in their torn boots under the bench. Why should
he be comfortable? It was enough if the master and the Soltys were. He
ate his soup and listened with both ears.

'What makes you take the cow to Gryb?' asked the gospodyni.

'Because he wants to buy her.'

'We might buy her ourselves.'

'Yes, that might be so,' put in Slimak; 'the girl is here, the cow
should be here too.'

'That's right, isn't it, Maciek?' asked the woman.

'Oho, ho!' laughed Maciek, till the soup ran out of his spoon.

'What's true is true,' said Grochowski; 'even Gryb ought to understand
that the cow ought to be where the girl is.'

'Then sell her to us,' Slimak said quickly.

Grochowski dropped his spoon on the table and his head on his chest. He
reflected for a while, then he said in a tone of resignation:

'There's no help for it; as you are quite, decided I must sell you the

'But you'll take off something for us, won't you?' hastily added the
woman in an ingratiating tone.

The Soltys reflected once more.

'You see, it's like this; if it were my cow I would come down. But she
belongs to a poor orphan. How could I harm her? Give me thirty-five
paper roubles and a silver rouble and the cow will be yours.'

'That's too much,' sighed Slimak.

'But she is worth it!' said the Soltys.

'Still, money sits in the chest and doesn't eat.'

'Neither will it give milk.'

'I should have to rent the field.'

'That will be cheaper than buying fodder.'

A long silence ensued, then Slimak said:

'Well, neighbour, say your last word.'

'I tell you, thirty-five paper roubles and a silver rouble. Gryb will
be angry, but I'll do this for you.'

The gospodyni now cleared the bowl off the table and returned with a
bottle of vodka, two glasses, and a smoked sausage on a plate.

'To your health, neighbour,' said Slimak, pouring out the vodka.

'Drink in God's name!'

They emptied the glasses and began to chew the dry sausage in silence.
Maciek was so affected by the sight of the vodka that he folded his
hands on his stomach. It struck him that those two must be feeling very
happy, so he felt happy too.

'I really don't know whether to buy the cow or not,' said Slimak; 'your
price has taken the wish from me.'

Grochowski moved uneasily on his chair.

'My dear friend,' he said, 'what am I to do? this is the orphan's
affair. I have got to buy her land, if for no other reason but because
it annoys my wife.'

'You won't give thirty-five roubles for an acre.'

'Land is getting dearer, because the Germans want to buy it.'

'The Germans?'

'Those who bought Wolka. They want other Germans to settle near here.'

'There were two Germans near my field asking me a lot of questions. I
didn't know what they wanted.'

'There you are! they creep in. Directly one has settled, others come
like ants after honey, and then the land gets dearer.'

'Do they know anything about peasants' work?'

'Rather! They make more profits than we who are born here. The Germans
are clever; they have a lot of cattle, sow clover and carry on a trade
in the winter. We can't compete with them.'

'I wonder what their religion is like? They talk to each other like

'Their religion is better than the Jews',' the Soltys said, after
reflecting; 'but what is not Catholic is nothing. They have churches
with benches and an organ; but their priests are married and go about
in overcoats, and where the blessed Host ought to be on the altar they
have a crucifix, like ours in the porch.'

'That's not as good as our religion.'

'Why!' said Grochowski, 'they don't even pray to the Blessed Mother.'

The gospodyni crossed herself.

'It's odd that the Merciful God should bless such people with
prosperity. Drink, neighbour!'

'To your health! Why should God not bless them, when they have a lot of
cattle? That's at the bottom of all prosperity.'

Slimak became pensive and suddenly struck his fist on the table.

'Neighbour,' he cried, raising his voice, 'sell me the cow!'

'I will sell her to you,' cried Grochowski, also striking the table.

'I'll give you...thirty-one I love you.' Grochowski
embraced him.

'Brother...give me...thirty...and four paper roubles and a silver
rouble for the halter.'

The tired children cautiously stole into the room; the gospodyni poured
out some soup for them and told them to sit in the corner and be quiet.
And quiet they were, except at one moment when Stasiek fell off the
bench and his mother slapped Jendrek for it. Maciek dozed, dreaming
that he was drinking vodka. He felt the liquor going to his head and
fancied himself sitting by the Soltys and embracing him. The fumes of
the vodka and the lamp were filling the room. Slimak and Grochowski
moved closer together.

'Neighbour...Soltys,' said Slimak, striking the table again. 'I'll give
you whatever you wish, your word is worth more than money to me, for
you are the cleverest man in the parish. The Wojt is a are
more to me than the Wojt or even the Government Inspector, for you are
cleverer than they are...devil take me!'

They fell on each other's shoulders and Grochowski wept.

'Josef, brother,...don't call me Soltys but brother...for we are

'Wojciek...Soltys...say how much you want for the cow. I'll give it
you, I'll rip myself open to give it you...thirty-five paper roubles
and a silver rouble.'

'Oh dear, oh dear!' wailed the gospodyni. 'Weren't you letting the cow
go for thirty-three roubles just now, Soltys?'

Grochowski raised his tearful eyes first to her, then to Slimak.

'Was I?...'ll give you the cow for thirty-three
roubles. Take her! let the orphan starve, so long as you, my brother,
get a prime cow.'

Slimate beat a tattoo on the table.

'Am I to cheat the orphan? I won't; I'll give you thirty-five....'

'What are you doing, you fool?' his wife interrupted him.

'Yes, don't be foolish,' Grochowski supported her. 'You have
entertained me so finely that I'll give you the cow for thirty-three
roubles. Amen! that's my last word.'

'I won't!' shouted Slimak. 'Am I a Jew that I should be paid for

'Josef!' his wife said warningly.

'Go away, woman!' he cried, getting up with difficulty; 'I'll teach you
to mix yourself up in my affairs.'

He suddenly fell into the embrace of the weeping Grochowski.


'Thirty-three...' sobbed the Soltys; 'may I not burn in hell!'

'Josef,' his wife said, 'you must respect your guest; he is older than
you, and he is Soltys. Maciek, help me to get them into the barn.'

'I'll go by myself,' roared Slimak.

'Thirty-three roubles...' groaned Grochowski, 'chop me to bits, but I
won't take a grosz more.... I am a Judas.... I wanted to cheat you. I
said I was taking the cow to Gryb...but I was bringing her to you...for
you are my brother....'

They linked arms and made for the window. Maciek opened the door into
the passage, and after several false starts they reached the courtyard.
The gospodyni took a lantern, rug and pillow, and followed them. When
she reached the yard she saw Grochowski kneeling and rubbing his eyes
with his sukmana and Slimak lying on the manure heap. Maciek was
standing over them.

'We must do something with them,' he said to the gospodyni; 'they've
drunk a whole bottle of vodka.'

'Get up, you drunkard,' she cried, 'or I'll pour water over your head.'

'I'll pour it over you, I'll give you a whipping presently!' her
husband shouted back at her.

Grochowski fell on his neck.

'Don't make a hell of your house, brother, or grief will come to us

Maciek could not wonder enough at the changes wrought in men by vodka.
Here was the Soltys, known in the whole parish as a hard man, crying
like a child, and Slimak shouting like the bailiff and disobeying his

'Come to the barn, Soltys,' said Slimakowa, taking him by one arm while
Maciek took the other. He followed like a lamb, but while she was
preparing his bed on the straw, he fell upon the threshing-floor and
could not be moved by any manner of means.

'Go to bed, Maciek,' said the gospodyni; 'let that drunkard lie on the
manure-heap, because he has been so disagreeable.'

Maciek obeyed and went to the stable. When all was quiet, he began for
his amusement to pretend that he was drunk, and acted the part of
Slimak or the Soltys in turns. He talked in a tearful voice like
Grochowski: 'Don't make a hell of your house, brother...' and in order
to make it more real he tried to make himself cry. At first he did not
succeed, but when he remembered his foot, and that he was the most
miserable creature, and the gospodyni hadn't even given him a glass of
vodka, the tears ran freely from his eyes, until he too went to sleep.

About midnight Slimak awoke, cold and wet, for it had begun to rain.
Gradually his aching head remembered the Soltys, the cow, the barley
soup and the large bottle of vodka. What had become of the vodka? He
was not quite certain on this point, but he was quite sure that the
soup had disagreed with him.

'I always say you should not eat hot barley soup at night,' he groaned.

He was no longer in doubt whether or no he was lying on the
manure-heap. Slowly he walked up to the cottage and hesitated on the
doorstep; but the rain began to fall more heavily. He stood still in
the passage and listened to Magda's snoring; then he cautiously opened
the door of the room.

Stasiek lay on the bench under the window, breathing deeply. There was
no sound from the alcove, and he realized that his wife was not asleep.

'Jagna, make room...' he tried to steady his voice, but he was seized
with fear.

There was no answer.

'Come...move up....'

'Be off with you, you tippler, and don't come near me.'

'Where am I to go?'

'To the manure-heap or the pigsty, that's your proper place. You
threatened me with the whip! I'll take it out of you!'

'What's the use of talking like that, when nothing is wrong?' said
Slimak, holding his aching head.

'Nothing wrong? You insisted on paying thirty-five paper roubles and a
silver rouble when Grochowski was letting the cow go for thirty-three
roubles. Nothing wrong, indeed! do three roubles mean nothing to you?'

Slimak crept to the bench where Stasiek lay and touched his feet.

'Is that you, daddy?' the boy asked, waking up.

'Yes, it's I.'

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm just sitting down; something is worrying me inside.'

The boy put his arms round his neck.

'I'm so glad you have come,' he said; 'those two Germans keep coming
after me.'

'What Germans?'

'Those two by our field, the old one and the man with the beard. They
don't say what they want, but they are walking on me.'

'Go to sleep, child; there are no Germans here.'

Stasiek pressed closer to him and began to chatter again:

'Isn't it true, daddy, that the water can see?'

'What should it see?'

'Everything - everything - the sky, the hills; it sees us when we follow
the harrows.'

'Go to sleep. Don't talk nonsense.'

'It does, it does, daddy, I've watched it myself,' he whispered, going
to sleep.

The room was too hot for Slimak; he dragged himself up and staggered to
the barn, where he fell into a bundle of straw.

'But what I gave for the cow I gave for her,' he muttered in the
direction of the sleeping Grochowski.


Slimakowa came to the barn early the next morning and called her
husband. 'Are you going to be long idling there?'

'What's the matter?'

'It's time to go to the manor-house.'

'Have they sent for me?'

'Why should they send for you? You have got to go to them and see about
the field.'

Slimak groaned, but came out on to the threshing-floor. His face was
bloated, he looked ashamed of himself, and his hair was full of straw.

'Just look at him,' jeered his wife: 'his sukmana is dirty and wet, he
hasn't taken off his boots all night, and he scowls like a brigand. You
are more fit for a scarecrow in a flaxfield than for talking to the
squire. Change your clothes and go.'

She returned to the cowshed, and a weight fell off Slimak's mind that
the matter had ended there. He had expected to be jeered at till the
afternoon. He came out into the yard and looked round. The sun was
high, the ground had dried after the rain; the wind from the ravines
brought the song of birds and a damp, cheerful smell; the fields had
become green during the night. The sky looked as if it had been
freshened up, and the cottage seemed whiter.

'A nice day,' he murmured, gaining courage, and went indoors to dress.
He pulled the straw out of his hair and put on a clean shirt and new
boots. He thought they did not look polished enough, so he took a piece
of tallow and rubbed it well first over his hair, then over his boots.
Then he stood in front of the glass and smiled contentedly at the
brilliance he rejected from head to foot.

His wife came in at that moment and looked disdainfully at him.

'What have you been doing to your head? You stink of tallow miles off.
You'd better comb your hair.'

Slimak, silently acknowledging the justice of the remark, took a thick
comb from behind the looking-glass and smoothed his hair till it looked
like polished glass, then he applied the soap to his neck so
energetically that his fingers left large, dark streaks.

'Where is Grochowski?' he asked in a more cheerful voice, for the cold
water had added to his good temper.

'He has gone.'

'What about the money?'

'I paid him, but he wouldn't take the thirty-three roubles; he said
that Jesus Christ had lived in this world for thirty-three years, so it
would not be right for him to take as much as that for the cow.'

'Very proper,' Slimak agreed, wishing to impress her with his
theological knowledge, but she turned to the stove and took off a pot
of hot barley soup. Offering it to him with an air of indifference:
'Don't talk so much,' she said. 'Put something hot inside you and go to
the manor-house. But just try and bargain as you did with the Soltys
and I shall have something to say to you.'

He sat humbly, eating his soup, and his wife took some money from the
chest. 'Take these ten roubles,' she said, 'give them to the squire
himself and promise to bring the rest to-morrow. But mind what he asks
for the field, and kiss his hands, and embrace his and the lady's feet
so that he may let you off at least three roubles. Will you remember?'

'Why shouldn't I remember?'

He was obviously repeating his wife's admonitions, for he suddenly
stopped eating and tapped the table rhythmically with the spoon.

'Well, then, don't sit there and think, but put on your sukmana and go.
And take the boys with you.'

'What for?'

'What for? They are to support you when you ask the squire, and Jendrek
will tell me how you have bargained. Now do you know what for?'

'Women are a pest!' growled Slimak, when she had unfolded her carefully
laid plans. 'Curse her, how she lords it over me! You can see that her
father was a bailiff.'

He struggled into his sukmana, which was brand new and beautifully
embroidered at the collar and pockets with coloured thread; put on a
broad leather belt, tied the ten roubles up in a rag and slipped them
into his sukmana. The children had long been ready, and at last they

They had no sooner gone than loneliness began to fill Slimakowa's
heart. She went outside the gate and watched them; her husband, with
his hands in his pockets, was strolling along the road, Jendrek on his
right and Stasiek on his left. Presently Jendrek boxed Stasiek's ears
and as a result he was walking on the left and Stasiek on the right.
Then Slimak boxed both their ears, after which they were both walking
on the left, Jendrek in the ditch, so that he could threaten his
brother with his fist.

'Bless them, they always find some nice amusement for themselves,' she
whispered, smiling, and went back to put on the dinner.

Having settled the misunderstanding between his sons, Slimak sang
softly to himself:

'Your love is no courtier,
my own heart's desire,
He's riding a pony on his way to the squire.'

Then in a more melancholy strain:

'Oh dearie, dearie me
This is great misery,
What shall I do?...'

He sighed, and felt that no song could adequately express his anxiety.
Would the squire let him have the field? They were just passing it; he
was almost afraid to look at it, so beautiful and unattainable did it
seem. All the fines he had had to pay for his cattle, all the squire's
threats and admonitions came into his mind. It struck him that if the
field lay farther off and produced sand instead of good grass, he would
have a better chance.

'Eh, I don't care!' he cried, throwing up his head with an air of
indifference; 'they've often asked me to take it.'

That was so, but it had been at times when he had not wanted it; now
that he did, they would bargain hard, or not let him have it at all.
Who could tell why that should be so? It was a law of nature that
landlords and peasants were always at cross purposes.

He remembered how often he had charged too much for work done, or how
often the gospodarze had refused to come to terms with the squire about
rights of grazing or wood-gathering in the forests, and he felt
contrite. Good Lord! how beautifully the squire had spoken to them:
'Let us help each other and live peaceably like good neighbours.'

And they had answered: 'What's the good of being neighbours? A nobleman
is a nobleman and a peasant is a peasant. We should prefer peasants for
neighbours and you would prefer noblemen.' Then the squire had cited:
'Remember, the runaway goat came back to the cart and said, "Put me
in." But I shall say you nay.' And Gryb, in the name of them all, had
answered: 'The goat will come, your honour, when you throw your forests

The squire had said nothing, but his trembling moustaches had warned
them that he would not forget that answer.

'I always told Gryb not to talk with a long tongue,' Slimak sighed.
'Now it is I who will have to suffer for his impudence.'

A new idea came into his head. Why should he not pay for the field in
work instead of cash? The Squire might accept it, for he wasn't half a
bad gentleman. It was true, the other gospodarze looked down upon him,
because he was the only one who hired himself out for work; but
whatever happened, the squire would always be the squire, and they the
gospodarze. He hummed again, but under his breath, so that the boys
should not hear him:

'The cuckoo cuckooed in the forest,
Say the neighbours, I am the dullest.'

Suddenly he turned upon Stasiek, and wanted to know why he was dragging
along as if he were being taken to jail, and didn't talk.

'I...I am wondering why we are going to the manor?'

'Don't you want to go?'

'No; I am afraid.'

'What is there to be afraid of?' snapped Slimak, but he himself was

'You see, my boy,' he continued, more kindly, 'we have bought the new
cow from the Soltys and we shall want more hay, so I am going to ask
the squire to let me rent the field.'

'I see....But, daddy, I am always wondering what the grass thinks when
the cows chew it up.'

'What should it think? It doesn't think at all.'

'But, daddy, why shouldn't it think? When people are standing round the
church in a crowd, they look like grass from a distance, all red and
yellow, like flowers in a field. If some horrible cow came and lapped
them up with her tongue, wouldn't they be able to think?'

'People would scream, but the grass says nothing.'

'It does say something! A dry stick cracks when you tread on it, and a
fresh branch cries and clings to the tree when you tear it off, and the
grass squeaks and holds on with its feet,...and...'

'Oh! you are always saying queer things,' interrupted his father; 'and
you, Jendrek, are you glad that we are going to the manor-house?'

'Is it I who is going or you?' said Jendrek, shrugging his shoulders.
'I shouldn't go.'

'Well, what would you do?'

'I should take the hay and stack it in the yard; then let them come!'

'You would dare to cut the squire's hay?'

'How is it his? Has he sown the grass? or is the field near his house?'

'Don't you see, silly, that the meadow is his just as well as his other

'They are his, so long as no one takes them. Our land and our house
were his once, now they are yours. Why should he be better off than we
are? He does nothing, yet he has enough land for a hundred peasants.'

'He has it because he has it, because he is a gentleman.'

'Pooh! If you wore a coat, and your trousers outside your boots, you
would be a gentleman; but for all that you wouldn't have the land.'

'You are stupid,' said Slimak, getting angry.

'I know I am stupid, that is because I can't read or write, but Jasiek
Gryb can, and therefore he is clever, and he says there must be
equality, and there will be when the peasants have taken the land from
the nobility.'

'Jasiek had better leave off taking money from his father's chest
before he disposes of other people's property! He might give mine to
Maciek and take the squire's for himself, but he would never give his
own away. Let it be as God has ordered.'

'Did God give the land to the squire?'

'God has ordered that there should not be equality in the world. A pine
is tall, a hazel is low, the grass is still lower. Look at sensible
dogs. When a pail of dish-water is brought out to them, the strongest
drinks first, and the others stand by and lick their lips, although
they know that he will take the best part; then they all take their
turn. If they start quarrelling, they upset the pail and the strong get

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Online LibraryVariousSelected Polish Tales → online text (page 3 of 22)