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Selected Polish Tales

WLADYSLAW REYMONT'S Book DEATH


Here we have the full text of the classic short story, 'Death', by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont.

'Father, eh, father, get up, do you hear?--Eh, get a move on!'

'Oh God, oh Blessed Virgin! Aoh!' groaned the old man, who was being
violently shaken. His face peeped out from under his sheepskin, a
sunken, battered, and deeply-lined face, of the same colour as the
earth he had tilled for so many years; with a shock of hair, grey as
the furrows of ploughed fields in autumn. His eyes were closed;
breathing heavily he dropped his tongue from his half-open bluish mouth
with cracked lips.

'Get up! hi!' shouted his daughter.

'Grandad!' whimpered a little girl who stood in her chemise and a
cotton apron tied across her chest, and raised herself on tiptoe to
look at the old man's face.

'Grandad!' There were tears in her blue eyes and sorrow in her grimy
little face. 'Grandad!' she called out once more, and plucked at the
pillow.

'Shut up!' screamed her mother, took her by the nape of the neck and
thrust her against the stove.

'Out with you, damned dog!' she roared, when she stumbled over the old
half-blind bitch who was sniffing the bed. 'Out you go! will you...you
carrion!' and she kicked the animal so violently with her clog that it
tumbled over, and, whining, crept towards the closed door. The little
girl stood sobbing near the stove, and rubbed her nose and eyes with
her small fists.

'Father, get up while I am still in a good humour!'

The sick man was silent, his head had fallen on one side, his breathing
became more and more laboured. He had not much longer to live.

'Get up. What's the idea? Do you think you are going to do your dying
here? Not if I know it! Go to Julina, you old dog! You've given the
property to Julina, let her look after you...come now...while I'm yet
asking you!'

'Oh blessed Child Jesus! oh Mary....'

A sudden spasm contracted his face, wet with anxiety and sweat. With a
jerk his daughter tore away the feather-bed, and, taking the old man
round the middle, she pulled him furiously half out of the bed, so that
only his head and shoulders were resting on it; he lay motionless like
a piece of wood, and, like a piece of wood, stiff and dried up.

'Priest.... His Reverence...' he murmured under his heavy breathing.

'I'll give you your priest! You shall kick your bucket in the pigsty,
you sinner...like a dog!' She seized him under the armpits, but dropped
him again directly, and covered him entirely with the feather-bed, for
she had noticed a shadow flitting past the window. Some one was coming
up to the house.

She scarcely had time to push the old man's feet back into the bed.
Blue in the face, she furiously banged the feather-bed and pushed the
bedding about.

The wife of the peasant Dyziak came into the room.

'Christ be praised.'

'In Eternity...' growled the other, and glanced suspiciously at her out
of the corners of her eyes.

'How do you do? Are you well?'

'Thank God... so so...'

'How's the old man? Well?'

She was stamping the snow off her clogs near the door.

'Eh... how should he be well? He can hardly fetch his breath any more.'

'Neighbour... you don't say so... neighbour...' She was bending down
over the old man.

'Priest,' he sighed.

'Dear me... just fancy... dear me, he doesn't know me! The poor man
wants the priest. He's dying, that's certain, he's all but dead
already... dear me! Well, and did you send for his Reverence?'

'Have I got any one to send?'

'But you don't mean to let a Christian soul die without the sacrament?'

'I can't run off and leave him alone, and perhaps...he may recover.'

'Don't you believe it... ho, ho... just listen to his breathing. That
means that his inside is withering up. It's just as it was with my
Walek last year when he was so ill.'

'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
think...'

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
living-room.

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
fire.

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
floor.

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
up.

'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
out.

'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
chest.

'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
other.

'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
speculator!'

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
security.'

'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
Ignatz?'

'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...'

'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
been!'

'Monika!'

'Eh?'

'We ought to get him out there.'

'Well, fetch him out then.'

'All right...but...'

'You're afraid, what?'

'Idiot...damned...'

'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
yard.

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
is!'

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
door.

'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
them.

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
over.

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
funeral.

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
door-handle.

'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,
what?'

'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
calmly.

'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
witnesses...'

'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
breasts.

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
home.

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
arm.

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
eyes.

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:
'Ignatz!'

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.]


polish literature