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and meanwhile it does not grieve the old woman to see me sitting here
wasting my time.' He lit his pipe very deliberately, rested his elbows
on his knees and his head in his hands and looked into the valley,
watching the crowd of Germans.

With their covered carts they had enclosed a square into which they had
driven their cattle and horses; inside and outside of this the people
were bustling about. Some put a portable manger on a stand and fed the
cows, others ran to the river with buckets. The women brought out their
saucepans and little sacks of vegetables and a crowd of children ran
down the ravine for fuel.

'What crowds of children they have!' said Slimak; 'we have not as many
in the whole village.'

'Thick as lice,' said Maciek.

Slimak could not wonder enough. Yesterday the field had been empty and
quiet, to-day it was like a fair. People by the river, people in the
ravines, people on the fields, who chop the bushes, carry wood, make
fires, feed and water the animals! One man had already opened a
retail-shop on a cart and was obviously doing good business. The women
were pressing round him, buying salt, sugar, vinegar. Some young
mothers had made cradles of shawls, suspended on short pitchforks, and
while they were cooking with one hand they rocked the cradle with the
other. There was a veterinary surgeon, too, who examined the foot of a
lame horse, and a barber was shaving an old Swabian on the step of his

'Do you notice how quickly they work? It's farther for them to fetch
the firewood than for us, yet we take half the day over it and they do
it before you can say two prayers.'

'Oh! oh!' said Maciek, who seemed to feel this remark as an aspersion.

'But, then, they work together, 'continued Slimak; 'when our people go
out in a crowd every one attends to his own business, and rests when he
likes or gets into the way of the others. But these dogs work together
as if they were used to each other; if one of them were to lie down on
the ground the others would cram work into his hand and stand over him
till he had finished it. Watch them yourself.'

He gave his pipe to Maciek and returned to the cottage.

'They are quick folk, those Swabians,' he muttered, 'and clever!'
Within half an hour he had discovered the two secrets of modern work:
organization and speed.

About noon two colonists came to the gospodarstwo and asked Slimak to
sell them butter and potatoes and hay. He let them have the former
without bargaining, but he refused the hay.

'Let us at least have a cartload of straw,' they asked with their
foreign accent.

'I won't. I haven't got any.'

The men got angry.

'That scoundrel Hamer is giving us no end of trouble,' one cried,
dashing his cap on the ground; 'he told us we should get fodder and
everything at the farms. We can't get any at the manor either; the Jews
from the inn are there and won't stir from the place.'

Just as they were leaving, a brichka drove up containing the two
Hamers, whose faces were now quite familiar to Slimak. The colonists
rushed to the vehicle with shouts and explanations, gesticulating
wildly, pointing hither and thither, and talking in turns, for even in
their excitement they seemed to preserve system and order.

The Hamers remained perfectly calm, listening patiently and
attentively, until the others were tired of shouting. When they had
finished, the younger man answered them at some length, and at last
they shook hands and the colonists took up their sacks of potatoes and
departed cheerfully.

'How are you, gospodarz?' called the elder man to Slimak. 'Shall we
come to terms yet?'

'What's the use of talking, father?' said the other; 'he will come to
us of his own accord!'

'Never!' cried Slimak, and added under his breath: 'They are dead set
on me - the vermin! Queer folk!' he observed to his wife, looking after
the departing brichka, 'when our people are quarrelling, they don't
stop to listen, but these seem to understand each other all the same
and to smooth things over.'

'What are you always cracking up the Swabians for, you old silly?'
returned his wife. 'You don't seem to remember that they want to take
your land away from you.... I can't make you out!'

'What can they do to me? I won't let them have it, and they can't rob

'Who knows? They are many, and you are only one.'

'That's God's will! I can see they have more sense than I have, but
when it comes to holding on, there I can match them! Look at all the
woodpeckers on that little tree; that tree is like us peasants. The
squire sits and hammers, the parish sits and hammers, the Jews and the
Germans sit and hammer, yet in the end they all fly away and the tree
is still the tree.'

The evening brought a visit from old Sobieska, who stumbled in with her
demand of a 'thimbleful of whisky'.

'I nearly gave up the ghost,' she cried, 'I've run so fast to tell you
the news.'

She was rewarded with a thimble which a giant could well have worn on
his finger.

'Oh, Lord!' she cried, when she had drained it, 'this is the judgment
day for some people in the village! You see, Gryb and Orzchewski had
always taken for granted that the colonists wouldn't come, and they had
meant to drive a little bargain between them and keep some of the best
land and settle Jasiek Gryb on it like a nobleman, and he was to marry
Orzchewski's Paulinka. You know, she had learnt embroidery from the
squire's wife, and Jasiek had been doing work in the bailiff's office
and now goes about in an overcoat on high-days and holidays and...give
me another thimbleful, or I shall feel faint and can't talk....
Meanwhile, as I told you, the colonists had paid down half the money to
the Jew, and here they are, that's certain! When Gryb hears of it, he
comes and abuses Josel! "You cur of a Jew, you Caiaphas, you have
crucified Christ and now you are cheating me! You told me the Germans
wouldn't pay up, and here they are!" Whereupon Josel says: "We don't
know yet whether they will stay!" At first Gryb wouldn't listen and
shouted and banged his fists on the table, but at last Josel drew him
off to his room with Orzchewski, and they made some arrangement among

'He's a fool,' said Slimak; 'he wasn't cute enough to buy the land, he
won't be able to cope with the Germans.'

'Not cute enough?' cried the old woman. 'Give me a thimbleful...Josel's
clever enough, anyway...and his brother-in-law is even better...they'll
deal with the Swabians...I know what I know...give me a
thimbleful...give me a thim...' She became incoherent.

'What was that she was saying?' asked Slimakowa.

'The usual things she says when she's tipsy. She is in service with
Josel, so she thinks him almighty.'

When night came, Slimak again went to look at the camp. The people had
retired under their awnings, the cattle were lying down inside the
square, only the horses were grazing in the fields and ravines. At
times a flame from the camp fires flared up, or a horse neighed; from
hour to hour the call of a sleepy watchman was heard.

Slimak returned and threw himself on his bed, but could find no rest.
The darkness deprived him of energy, and he thought with fear of the
Germans who were so many and he but one. Might they not attack him or
set his house on fire?

About midnight a shot rang out, followed by another. He ran into the
back-yard and came upon the equally frightened Maciek. Shouts, curses,
and the clatter of horses' hoofs came from beyond the river. Gradually
the noise subsided.

Slimak learned in the morning from the colonists that horse-thieves had
stolen in among the horses.

The peasant was taken aback. Never before had such a thing happened in
the neighbourhood.

The news of the attack spread like wildfire and was improved upon in
every village. It was said that there was a gang of horse-stealers
about, who removed the horses to Prussia; that the Germans had fought
with them all night, and that some had been killed.

At last these rumours reached the ears of the police-sergeant, who
harnessed his fat mare, put a small cask and some empty bags into his
cart, and drove off in pursuit of the thieves.

The Germans treated him to smoked ham and excellent brandy, and Fritz
Hamer explained that they suspected two discharged manor-servants, Kuba
Sukiennik and Jasiek Eogacz, of stealing the horses.

'They have been arrested before for stealing locks off the doors, but
had to be released because there were no witnesses,' said the sergeant.
'Which of the gentlemen shot at them? Has he a licence to carry

Hamer, seeing that the question was becoming ticklish, led him aside
and explained things so satisfactorily to him that he soon drove off,
recommending that watch should be kept, and that the colonists should
not carry firearms.

'I suppose your farm will soon be standing, sir?' he asked.

'In a month's time,' replied Hamer.

'Capital!...we must make a day of it!'

He drove on to the manor-house, where Hirschgold's agent was so
delighted to see him that he brought out a bottle of Crimean wine. On
the topic of thieves, however, he had no explanation to offer.

'When I heard them shooting I at once snatched up my revolvers, one in
each hand, and I didn't close my eyes all night.'

'And have you a licence to carry firearms?'

'Why shouldn't I?'

'For two?'

'Oh well, the second is broken; I only keep it for show.'

'How many workmen do you employ?'

'About a hundred.'

'Are all their passports in order?'

The agent gave him a most satisfactory account as to this in his own
way and the sergeant took leave.

'Be careful, sir,' he recommended, 'once robbery begins in the village
it will be difficult to stop it. And in case of accident you will do
well to let me know first before you do anything.' He said this so
impressively that the agent henceforward took the two Jews from the
manor-house to sleep in the bailiff's cottage.

Slimak's gospodarstwo was the sergeant's next destination. Slimakowa
was just pouring out the peeled-barley soup when the stout
administrator of the law entered.

'The Lord be praised,' he said. 'What news?'

'In Eternity. We are all right.'

The sergeant looked round.

'Is your husband at home?'

'Where else should he be? Fetch your father, Jendrek.'

'Beautiful barley; is it your own?'

'Of course it is.'

'You might give me a sackful. I'll pay you next time I come.'

'I'll get the bag at once, sir.'

'Perhaps you can sell me a chicken as well?'

'We can.'

'Mind it's tender, and put it under the box.'

Slimak came in. 'Have you heard, gospodarz, who it was that tried to
steal the horses?'

'How should I know?'

'They say in the village that it was Sukiennik and Rogacz.'

'I don't know about that. I have heard they cannot find work here,
because they have been in prison.'

'Have you got any vodka? The dust makes one's throat dry.'

Vodka and bread and cheese were brought.

'You'd better be careful,' he said, when he departed, 'for they will
either rob you or suspect you.'

'By God's grace no one has ever robbed me, and it will never happen.'

The sergeant went to Josel, who received him enthusiastically. He
invited him into the parlour and assured him that all his licences were
in order.

'There is no signboard at the gate.'

'I'll put one up at once of whatever kind you like,' said the innkeeper
obsequiously, and ordered a bottle of porter.

The sergeant now opened the question of the night-attack.

'What night-attack?' jeered Josel. 'The Germans shot at one another and
then got frightened and made out that there was a gang of robbers
about. Such things don't happen here.'

The sergeant wiped his moustache. 'All the same Sukiennik and Rogacz
have been after the horses.'

Josel made a wry face. 'How could they, when they were in my house that

'In your house?'

'To be sure,' Josel answered carelessly. 'Gryb and Orzchewski both saw
them...dead drunk they were. What are they to do? they can't get
regular work, and what a man perchance earns in a day he likes to drink
away at night.'

'They might have got out.'

'They might, but the stable was locked and the key with the foreman.'
The conversation passed on to other topics.

'Look after Sukiennik and Rogacz,' the sergeant said, on his departure,
when he and his mare had been sufficiently rested.

'Am I their father, or are they in my service?'

'They might rob you.'

'Oh! I'll see to that all right!'

The sergeant returned home, half asleep, half awake. Sukiennik and
Rogacz kept passing before his vision; they had their hands full of
locks and were surrounded by horses. Josel's smiling face was hovering
over them and now and then old Gryb and his son Jasiek jeered from
behind a cloud. He sat up...startled. But there was nothing near him
except the white hen under the box and the trees by the wayside. He

'Bah...dreams!' he muttered.

The peasants were relieved when day after day passed and there was no
sign of building in the camp. They jumped to the conclusion that either
the Germans had not been able to come to terms with Hirschgold, or had
quarrelled with the Hamers, or that they had lost heart because of the

'Why, they haven't so much as measured out the ground!' cried
Orzchewski, and washed down the remark with a huge glass of beer.

He had, however, not yet wiped his mouth when a cart pulled up at the
inn and the surveyor alighted. They knew him directly by his
moustaches, which were trimmed to the resemblance of eels, and by his
sloeberry-coloured nose.

While Gryb and Orzchewski sorrowfully conducted each other home, they
comforted themselves with the thought that the surveyor might only be
spending the night in the village on his way elsewhere.

'God grant it, I want to see that young scamp of a Jasiek settled and
married, and if I let him out of my sight he goes to the dogs

'My Paulinka is a match for him; she'll look after him!'

'You don't know what you're talking of, neighbour; it will take the
three of us to look after him. Lately he hasn't spent a single night at
home, and sometimes I don't see him for a week.'

The surveyor started work in the manor-fields the next morning, and for
several days was seen walking about with a crowd of Germans in
attendance on all his orders, carrying his poles, putting up a portable
table, providing him with an umbrella or a place in the shade where he
could take long pulls out of his wicker flask. The peasants stood
silently watching them.

'I could measure as well as that if I drank as much as he does,' said
one of them.

'Ah, but that is why he is a surveyor,' said another, 'because he has a
strong head.'

No sooner had he departed than the Germans drove off and returned with
heavy cartloads of building materials. One fine day a small troop of
masons and carpenters appeared with their implements. A party of
colonists went out to meet them, followed by a large crowd of women and
children. They met at an appointed place, where refreshments and a
barrel of beer had been provided.

Old Hamer, in a faded drill-jacket, Fritz in a black coat, and Wilhelm,
adorned with a scarlet waistcoat with red flowers, were busy welcoming
the guests; Wilhelm had charge of the barrel of beer.

Maciek had noticed these preparations and gave the alarm, and all the
inhabitants of the gospodarstwo watched the proceedings with the
keenest interest. They saw old Hamer taking up a stake and driving it
into the ground with a wooden hammer.

'Hoch!...Hoch!' shouted the workmen. Hamer bowed, took a second stake
and carried it northwards, accompanied by the crowd. The women and
children were headed by the schoolmaster in his little cart. He now
lifted his cap high into the air, and at this sign the whole crowd
started to sing Luther's hymn:

'A stronghold sure our God remains,
A shield and hope unfailing,
In need His help our freedom gains,
O'er all our fear prevailing;
Our old malignant foe
Would fain work us woe;
With craft and great might
He doth against us fight,
On earth is no one like him.'

At the first note Slimak had taken off his cap, his wife crossed
herself, and Maciek stepped aside and knelt down. Stasiek, with
wide-open eyes, began to tremble, and Jendrek started running down the
hill, waded through the river, and headed at full speed for the camp.

While Hamer was driving the stake into the ground the procession,
slowly coming up to him, continued:

'Our utmost might is all in vain,
We straight had been rejected,
But for us fights the perfect Man
By God Himself elected;
Ye ask: Who may He be?
The Lord Christ is He!
The God, by hosts ador'd,
Our great Incarnate Lord,
Who all His foes will vanquish.'

Never had the peasants heard a hymn like this, so solemn, yet so
triumphant, they who only knew their plainsongs, which rose to heaven
like a great groan: 'Lord, we lay our guilt before Thine eyes.'

A cry from Stasiek roused the parents from their reverie.

'Mother...mother...they are singing!' stammered the child; his lips
became blue, and he fell to the ground.

The frightened parents lifted him up and carried him into the cottage,
where he recovered when the singing ceased. They had always known that
the singing at church affected him very deeply, but they had never seen
him like this.

Jendrek, meanwhile, although wet through and cold, stood riveted by the
spectacle he was watching. Why were these people walking and singing
like this? Surely, they wanted to drive away some evil power from their
future dwellings, and, not having incense or blessed chalk, they were
using stakes. Well, after all, a club of oakwood was better against the
devil than chalk! Or were they themselves bewitching the place?

He was struck with the difference in the behaviour of the Germans. The
old men, women, and children were walking along solemnly, singing, but
the young fellows and the workmen stood in groups, smoking and
laughing. Once they made a noisy interruption when Wilhelm Hamer, who
presided at the beer-barrel, lifted up his glass. The young men shouted
'Hoch! hurrah!' Old Hamer looked round disapprovingly, and the
schoolmaster shook his fist.

As the procession drew near, Jendrek heard a woman's voice above the
children's shrill trebles, Hamer's guttural bass and the old people's
nasal tones; it was clear, full, and inexpressively moving. It made his
heart tremble within him. The sounds shaped themselves in his
imagination to the picture of a beautiful weeping-willow.

He knew that it must be the voice of the schoolmaster's daughter, whom
he had seen before. At that time the dog had engaged his attention more
than the girl, but now her voice took entire possession of the boy's
soul, to the exclusion of everything else he heard or saw. He, too,
wanted to sing, and began under his breath:

'The Lord is ris'n to-day.
The Lord Jesus Christ...'

It seemed to fit in with the melody which the Germans were just

He was roused from this state by the young men's voices; he caught
sight of the schoolmaster's daughter and unconsciously moved towards
her. But the young man soon brought him to his senses. They pulled his
hat over his ears, pushed him into the middle of the crowd, and, wet,
smeared with sand, looking more like a scarecrow than a boy, he was
passed from hand to hand like a ball. Suddenly his eyes met those of
the girl, and a wild spirit awoke in him. He kicked one young man over
with his bare legs, tore the shirt off another one's back, butted old
Hamer in the stomach, and then stood with clenched fists in the space
he had cleared, looking where he might break through. Most of the men
laughed at him, but some were for handling him roughly. Fortunately old
Hamer recognized him.

'Why, youngster, what are you up to?'

'They're bullying me,' he said, while the tears were rising in his

'Don't you come from that cottage? What are you doing here?'

'I wanted to listen to your singing, but those scoundrels...'

He stopped suddenly when he saw the grey eyes of the schoolmaster's
daughter fixed on him. She offered him the glass of beer she had been
drinking from.

'You are wet through,' she said. 'Take a good pull.'

'I don't want it,' said the boy, and felt ashamed directly; it did not
seem well-mannered to speak rudely to one so beautiful.

'I might get tipsy...' he cried, but drained the glass, looked at her
again and blushed so deeply that the girl smiled sadly as she looked at

At that moment violins and cellos struck up; Wilhelm Hamer came heavily
bounding along and took the girl away to dance. Her yearning eyes once
more rested on Jendrek's face.

He felt that something strange was happening to him. A terrible anger
and sorrow gripped him by the throat; he wanted to throw himself on
Wilhelm and tear his flowered waistcoat off his back; at the same time
he wanted to cry aloud. Suddenly he turned to go.

'Are you going?' asked the schoolmaster. 'Give my compliments to your

'And you can tell him from me that I have rented the field by the river
from Midsummer Day,' Hamer called after him.

'But dad rented it from the squire!' Hamer laughed...'The squire! We
are the squires now, and the field is mine.'

As Jendrek neared the road he came upon a peasant, hidden behind a
bush, who had been watching. It was Gryb.

'Be praised,' said Jendrek.

'Who's praised at your place?' growled the old man; 'it must be the
devil and not the Lord, since you are taking up with the Germans.'

'Who's taking up with them?'

The peasant's eyes flashed and his dry skin quivered.

'You're taking up with them!' he cried, shaking his fist, 'or perhaps I
didn't see you running off to them like a dog through the water to
cadge for a glass of beer, nor your father and mother on the hill
praying with the Swabians...praying to the devil! God has punished them
already, for something has fallen on Stasiek. There will be more to wait!'

Jendrek slowly walked home, puzzled and sad. When he returned to the
cottage, he found Stasiek lying ill. He told his father what Gryb had

'He's an old fool,' replied Slimak. 'What! should a man stand like a
beast when others are praying, even if they are Swabians?'

'But their praying has bewitched Stasiek.' Slimak looked gloomy.

'Why should it have been their prayers? Stasiek is easily upset. Let a
woman but sing in the fields and he'll begin to shake all over.'

The matter ended there. Jendrek tried to busy himself about the
cottage, but he felt stifled indoors. He roamed about in the ravines,
stood on the hill and watched the Germans, or forced his way through
brambles. Wherever he went, the image of the schoolmaster's daughter
went with him; he saw her tanned face, grey eyes, and graceful
movements. Sometimes her powerful, entrancing voice seemed to come to
him as from a depth.

'Has she cast a spell over me?' he whispered, frightened, and continued
to think of her.


Slimak had never been so well off as he was that spring; money was
flowing into his chest while he took his leisure and looked around him
at all the new things.

Formerly, after a heavy day, he had thrown himself on his bed and had
scarcely fallen asleep like a stone when his wife would pull the cover
off him, crying: 'Get up, Josef; it is morning.'

'How can it be morning?' he thought; 'I've only just lain down.' All
the same he had to gather his bones together, when each one
individually held to the bed; willy-nilly he had to get up. So hard was
the resolution sometimes, that he even thought with pleasure of the
eternal sleep, when his wife would no longer stand over him and urge:
'Get up,'ll be late; they'll take it off your wages.'

Then he would dress, and drag the equally tired horses out of the
stable, so overcome with sleep that he would pause on the threshold and
mutter, 'I shall stay at home!' But he was afraid of his wife, and he
also knew very well that he could not make both ends meet at the
gospodarstwo without his wages.

Now all that was different. He slept as long as he liked. Sometimes his
wife pulled him by the leg from habit and said: 'Get up, Josef.' But,
opening only one eye, lest sleep should run away from him, he would
growl: 'Leave me alone!' and sleep, maybe, till the church bell rang
for Mass at seven o'clock.

There was really nothing to get up for now. Maciek had long ago
finished the spring-work in the fields; the Jews had left the village,
carrying their business farther afield, following the new railway line

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Online LibraryVariousSelected Polish Tales → online text (page 8 of 22)