Pan Tadeusz/Chapter 1
THE LAST FORAY IN LITHUANIA1
BOOK I.—THE FARM
Lithuania, my country, thou art like health; how much thou shouldst be prized only he can learn who has lost thee. To-day thy beauty in all its splendour I see and describe, for I yearn for thee.
Holy Virgin, who protectest bright Czenstochowa and shinest above the Ostra Gate in Wilno!2 Thou who dost shelter the castle of Nowogrodek with its faithful folk! As by miracle thou didst restore me to health in my childhood—when, offered by my weeping mother to thy protection, I raised my dead eyelids, and could straightway walk to the threshold of thy shrine to thank God for the life returned me—so by miracle thou wilt return us to the bosom of our country. Meanwhile bear my grief-stricken soul to those wooded hills, to those green meadows stretched far and wide along the blue Niemen; to those fields painted with various grain, gilded with wheat, silvered with rye; where grows the amber mustard, the buckwheat white as snow, where the clover glows with a maiden's blush, where all is girdled as with a ribbon by a strip of green turf on which here and there rest quiet pear-trees.
Amid such fields years ago, by the border of a brook, on a low hill, in a grove of birches, stood a gentleman's3 mansion, of wood, but with a stone foundation; the white walls shone from afar, the whiter since they were relieved against the dark green of the poplars that sheltered it against the winds of autumn. The dwelling-house was not large, but it was spotlessly neat, and it had a mighty barn, and near it were three stacks of hay that could not be contained beneath the roof; one could see that the neighbourhood was rich and fertile. And one could see from the number of sheaves that up and down the meadows shone thick as stars—one could see from the number of ploughs turning up early the immense tracts of black fallow land that evidently belonged to the mansion, and were tilled well like garden beds, that in that house dwelt plenty and order. The gate wide-open proclaimed to passers-by that it was hospitable, and invited all to enter as guests.
A young gentleman had just entered in a two-horse carriage, and, after making a turn about the yard, he stopped before the porch and descended; his horses, left to themselves, slowly moved towards the gate, nibbling the grass. The mansion was deserted, for the porch doors were barred and the bar fastened with a pin. The traveller did not run to make inquiries at the farmhouse but opened the door and ran into the mansion, for he was eager to greet it. It was long since he had seen the house, for he had been studying in a distant city and had at last finished his course. He ran in and gazed with eager emotion upon the ancient walls, his old friends. He sees the same furniture, the same hangings with which he had loved to amuse himself from babyhood, but they seemed less beautiful and not so large as of old. And the same portraits hung upon the walls. Here Kosciuszko,4 in his Cracow coat,5 with his eyes raised to heaven, held his two-handed sword; such was he when on the steps of the altar he swore that with this sword he would drive the three powers from Poland or himself would fall upon it. Farther on sat Rejtan,6 in Polish costume, mourning the loss of liberty; in his hands he held a knife with the point turned against his breast, and before him lay Phaedo and The Life of Cato. Still farther on Jasinski,7 a fair and melancholy youth, and his faithful comrade Korsak8 stand side by side on the entrenchments of Praga, on heaps of Muscovites, hewing down the enemies of their country—but around them Praga is already burning.
He recognised even the tall old musical clock in its wooden case near the chamber door, and with childish joy he pulled at the string, in order to hear Dombrowski's old mazurka.71
He ran about the whole house and searched for the room that had been his own when he was a child, ten years before. He entered, drew back, and surveyed the walls with astonished eyes: could this room be a woman's lodgings? Who could live here? His old uncle was unmarried, and his aunt had dwelt for years in St. Petersburg. Could that be the housekeeper's chamber? A piano? On it music and books; all abandoned in careless confusion: sweet disorder! Not old could the hands have been that had so abandoned them! There too, a white gown, freshly taken from the hook to put on, was spread upon the arm of a chair. In the windows were pots of fragrant flowers: geraniums, asters, gillyflowers, and violets. The traveller stepped to one of the windows—a new marvel was before him. On the bank of the brook, in a spot once overgrown with nettles, was a tiny garden intersected by paths, full of clumps of English grass and of mint. The slender wooden fence, fashioned into a monogram, shone with ribbons of gay daisies. Evidently the beds had but just been sprinkled; there stood the tin watering-pot full of water, but the fair gardener could nowhere be seen. She had only now departed; the little gate, freshly touched, was still trembling; near the gate could be seen on the sand the print of a small foot that had been without shoe or stocking—on the fine dry sand, white as snow; the print was clear but light; you guessed that it was left in quick running by the tiny feet of some one who scarce touched the ground.
The traveller stood long in the window gazing and musing, breathing in the fragrance of the flowers. He bent down his face to the violet plants; he followed the paths with his curious eyes and again gazed on the tiny footprints; he kept thinking of them and trying to guess whose they were. By chance he raised his eyes, and there on the wall stood a young girl—her white garment hid her slender form only to the breast, leaving bare her shoulders and her swan's neck. Such attire a Lithuanian maiden is wont to wear only early in the day; in such she is never seen by men. So, though there was no witness near, she had folded her arms on her breast, in order to add a veil to her low garment. Her hair, not spread out in loose ringlets but twisted in little knots and wrapped in small white curl-papers, marvellously adorned her head, for in the sunlight it shone like a crown on the image of a saint. Her face could not be seen, for she had turned towards the meadow, and with her eyes was seeking some one far off, below her. She caught sight of him, laughed, and clapped her hands; like a white bird she flew from the wall to the turf, and flashed through the garden, over stiles and flowers, and over a board supported on the wall of the chamber; before the young man was aware, she had flown in through the window, glittering, swift, and light as a moonbeam. Humming to herself, she seized the gown and ran to the mirror; suddenly she saw the youth, and the gown fell from her hands and her face grew pale with fright and wonder. The face of the traveller flamed with a rosy blush, as a cloud when it is touched with the morning glow; the modest youth half closed his eyes and hid them with his hand; he wished to speak and ask for pardon, but only bowed and stepped back. The maiden uttered a pitiful, indistinct cry, like a child frightened in its sleep; the traveller looked up in alarm, but she was there no longer; he departed in confusion and felt the loud beating of his heart; he knew not whether this strange meeting should cause him amusement or shame or joy.
Meanwhile in the farmhouse they had not failed to notice that some new guest had driven up before the porch. They had already taken the horses to the stable and already, as befits an honourable house, had given them generously of oats and hay, for the Judge9 was never willing to adopt the new fashion of sending a guest's horse to a Jew's inn. The servants had not come out to welcome the traveller, but do not think that in the Judge's mansion service was careless; the servants were waiting until the Seneschal10 should attire him, who now behind the mansion was arranging for the supper. He took the place of the master, and in his absence was wont himself to welcome and entertain guests, being a distant relative of the master and a friend of the house. Seeing the guest, he stealthily made his way to the farmhouse, for he could not come out to greet the stranger in a homespun dressing-gown; there he put on as quickly as he might his Sunday garment, made ready since early morning, for since morning he had known that at supper he should sit with a multitude of guests.
The Seneschal recognised the traveller from afar, spread out his arms, and with a cry embraced and kissed him. Then began a hurried, confused discourse, in which they were eager to tell the events of many years in a few brief words, mingled, as the tale went forward, with queries, exclamations, and new greetings. When the Seneschal had asked his fill of questions, at the very last he told the story of that day.
"It is good, my Thaddeus,"—for so they called the young man, whose first name had been given him in honour of Kosciuszko, as a token that he was born at the time of the war11—"it is good, my Thaddeus, that you have returned home this day, just when we have with us so many fair young ladies. Your uncle is thinking of soon celebrating your marriage. You have a wide choice: at our house a numerous company has for days been gathering for the session of the territorial court, to conclude our ancient quarrel with the Count. The Count himself is to arrive to-morrow; the Chamberlain12 is already here with his wife and daughters. The young men have gone to the wood to amuse themselves shooting, and the old men and the women are looking at the harvest near the wood, where they are doubtless awaiting the young men. Come on, if you wish, and soon we shall meet your dear uncle, the Chamberlain, and the honoured ladies."
The Seneschal and Thaddeus walked along the road towards the wood and could not say enough to each other. The sun was approaching the end of his course in the sky and shone less strongly but more broadly than by day, all reddened, as the healthy face of a husbandman, when, after finishing his work in the fields, he returns to rest: already the gleaming circle was descending on the summit of the grove, and already the misty twilight, filling the tips and the branches of the trees, bound and, as it were, fused the whole forest into one mass, and the grove showed black like an immense building, and the sun red above it like a fire on the roof; then the sun sank; it still shone through the branches, as a candle through the chinks of window shutters; then it was extinguished. And suddenly the scythes that were ringing far and wide among the grain, and the rakes that were being drawn over the meadow, became quiet and still; such were the orders of the Judge, on whose farm work closed with the day. "The Lord of the world knows how long we should toil; when the sun, his workman, descends from heaven, it is time for the husbandman to withdraw from the field." So the Judge was wont to speak, and the will of the Judge was sacred to the honest Steward; for even the waggons on which they had already begun to load the sheaves of grain, went unfilled to the stable; the oxen rejoiced in the unaccustomed lightness of their load.
The whole company was just returning from the grove, gaily, but in order; first the little children with their tutor, then the Judge with the wife of the Chamberlain; beside them the Chamberlain, surrounded by his family; after the older people came the young ladies, with the young men beside them; the young ladies walked a half-step before the young men: so decorum bids. No one there had arranged the order, no one had so placed the gentlemen and the ladies, but each without conscious thought kept the order: for the Judge in his household observed the ancient customs, and never allowed that respect should be neglected for age, birth, intelligence, or office: "By such breeding," said he, "houses and nations win fame, and with its fall, houses and nations go to ruin." So the household and the servants grew accustomed to order; and a passing guest, whether kinsman or stranger, when he visited the Judge, as soon as he had been there a short time, accepted the established ways of which all about him breathed.
Short were the greetings that the Judge bestowed upon his nephew. With dignity he offered him his hand to salute, and kissing him on the temple he gave him a hearty welcome; though out of regard for the guests he talked little with him, one could see from the tears that he quickly wiped away with the sleeve of his kontusz,13 how he loved young Thaddeus.
After the master all, both men and beasts, were returning home together from the harvest fields and from the grove, from the meadows and from the pastures. Here a flock of bleating sheep squeezed into the lane and raised a cloud of dust; behind them slowly stepped a herd of Tyrolese heifers with brazen bells; there the horses neighing rushed home from the freshly mown meadow. All ran to the well, of which the wooden sweep ceaselessly creaked and filled the trough.
The Judge, though wearied, and though surrounded by guests, did not neglect the weighty duties of his farm, but himself went to the well: at evening a farmer can best see how his stable prospers, and never entrusts that care to servants—for the Judge knew that the master's eye fattens the horse.
The Seneschal and Protazy the Apparitor14 were standing in the hall, lanterns in hand, and were arguing with some warmth, for in the Seneschal's absence the Apparitor had secretly ordered the supper tables to be carried out from the mansion and to be set up hastily in the old castle of which the remains could be seen near the wood. Why this transfer? The Seneschal made wry faces and begged the Judge's pardon; the Judge was amazed, but the thing had been done; it was already late and difficult to correct it; he preferred to make excuses to his guests and to lead them to the ruins. On the way the Apparitor kept explaining to the Judge why he had altered his master's arrangements: on the farm no room was spacious enough for so many guests—and guests of such high station; in the castle the great hall was still well preserved, the vaulted roof was whole—to be sure one wall was cracked and the windows were without panes, but in summer that would do no harm; the nearness of the cellars was convenient for the servants. So speaking, he winked at the Judge; it was evident from his mien that he had other, more important reasons, but concealed them.
The castle stood two thousand paces from the mansion, of stately architecture, and of imposing bulk, the ancestral home of the ancient house of the Horeszkos. The owner had perished at the time of the disorders in the country;15 the domain had been entirely ruined by the sequestrations of the government, by the carelessness of the guardians, and by the verdicts of the courts; part had fallen to distant relatives on the female side, the rest had been divided among the creditors. No one wished to take the castle, for a simple gentleman could hardly afford the cost of maintaining it; but the Count, a rich young noble and a distant relative of the Horeszkos, when he became of age and returned home from his travels to live near by, took a fancy to the walls, explaining that they were of Gothic architecture, though the Judge from documents tried to convince him that the architect was from Wilno and not a Goth. At all events the Count wished to have the castle, and suddenly the same desire seized the Judge, no one could tell why. They began a suit in the district court, then in the court of appeal, before the Senate, again in the district court and before the governor's council; finally after great expense of money, and numerous decrees, the case returned again to the court of domains.
The Apparitor said rightly that in the hall of the castle there was room both for the gentlemen of the bar and for the invited guests. This hall was as large as a refectory, and it had a vaulted roof supported on pillars, and a stone flooring; the walls were unadorned, but clean. Upon them were fastened the horns of stags and roes, with inscriptions telling where and when these trophies had been obtained; there too were engraved the armorial bearings of the hunters, with the name of each written out in full; on the ceiling gleamed the Half-Goat, the arms of the Horeszkos.
The guests entered in order and stood about the table. The Chamberlain took his place at the head; this honour befitted him from his age and his office; advancing to it he bowed to the ladies, the old men, and the young men. By him took his station a Bernardine monk, a collector of alms for his order, and next the Bernardine was the Judge. The Bernardine pronounced a short grace in Latin, brandy was passed to the gentlemen; then all sat down, and silently and with relish they ate the cold Lithuanian salad of beet leaves.16
Thaddeus, though a young man, by virtue of being a guest, had a seat at the head of the table, with the ladies, beside His Honour the Chamberlain; between him and his uncle there remained one empty place, which seemed to be awaiting some one. The uncle often glanced at this place and then at the door, as though he were assured of some one's coming and desired it; and Thaddeus followed his uncle's glance to the door, and with him fixed his eyes on the empty seat. Marvellous to relate, the places round about were occupied by maidens on whom a prince might have gazed without shame, all of them high born, and every one young and pretty; but Thaddeus kept looking at that spot where no one was sitting. That place was a riddle; young people love riddles. Distraught, to his fair neighbour the Chamberlain's daughter he said only a few scattering words; he did not change her plate or fill her glass, and he did not entertain the young ladies with polite discourse such as would have shown his city breeding. That one empty place allured him and dazzled him; it was no longer empty, for he had filled it with his thoughts. Over that place ran a thousand guesses, as after a rain, little toads hop hither and thither over a lonely meadow; among them one form was queen, like a water lily on a fair day raising its white brow above the surface of a lake.
The third course was being served. The Chamberlain, pouring a drop of wine into Panna Rosa's glass and passing a plate of cucumbers to his younger daughter, said: "I must wait on you myself, my dear daughters, though I am old and clumsy." Thereat several young men started up from the table and served the young ladies. The Judge, throwing a sidelong glance at Thaddeus and adjusting somewhat the sleeves of his kontusz, poured out some Hungarian wine and spoke thus:—
"To-day, as the new fashion bids us, we send our young men to the capital to study, and I do not deny that our sons and grandsons have more book learning than their elders; but each day I perceive how our young men suffer because there are no schools that teach how to conduct oneself in polite society. Of old, the young gentry went to the courts of the lords; I myself was for ten years a member of the household of the Wojewoda,26 the father of His Honour the Chamberlain." (As he said this he pressed the Chamberlain's knees.) "By his counsels he fitted me for the public service, and did not dismiss me from his care until he had made a man of me. In my home his memory will ever be dear; each day do I pray God for his soul. If at his court I profited less than others, and since my return have been ploughing the fields at home, while others, more worthy of the regard of the Wojewoda, have since attained the highest offices in the land, at least this much I profited, that in my home no one will ever reproach me for failing to show respect or courtesy to all—and boldly do I say it, courtesy is not an easy science, nor one of slight account. Not easy, for it is not confined to moving one's legs gracefully in bowing or to greeting with a smile each man one meets; for such fashionable courtesy seems to me that of a merchant, not that of old Poland, nor that of a true gentleman. Courtesy should be extended to all, but for each it is different; for not without courtesy is the love of children for their parents, or the regard paid by a husband to his wife in society, or that of a master for his servants, and yet each sort of courtesy has its distinctive mark. One must study long in order without mistake to pay to each his due respect. And our elders did study: in noble mansions the discourse furnished the listener a living history of his land, and the talk among the gentry formed the household annals of the county. Thereby a brother gentleman was made to feel that all knew of him and did not esteem him lightly; so a gentleman kept a watch upon his own habits. But to-day you must ask no man who he is or of what parents, with whom he has lived or what he has done. Every man enters where he will, so long as he be not a government spy or a beggar. As Vespasian did not smell of money,17 and cared not to know whence it came, from what hands or lands, so now they care not to know a man's family or habits. It suffices that he be of full weight and that the stamp be seen upon him; thus men value friends as Jews value money."
While speaking thus, the Judge surveyed his guests in order; for though he always spoke fluently and with discretion, he knew that the youth of to-day are impatient, that they are bored by long speeches, even by the most eloquent. But all were listening in deep silence; the Judge with his eye seemed to take counsel of the Chamberlain; the Chamberlain did not interrupt the speech by praise, but with a frequent nodding of his head he assented to it. The Judge ceased speaking, the other with a nod begged him to continue. So the Judge filled the Chamberlain's beaker and his own cup, and spoke further:—
"Courtesy is no slight thing: when a man learns to respect as is fitting the age, birth, virtues, and ways of others, at the same time he comes to recognise also his own dignity; as in weighing with scales, in order to learn our own weight, we must put some one in the opposite pan. And worthy of your especial attention is the courtesy that young men owe to the fair sex, above all when the distinction of family, and the generosity of fortune heighten inborn charms and talents. Through courtesy is the path to the affections, and by it houses are joined in splendid union—thus thought our elders. And therefore—"
Here the Judge with a sudden turn of his head nodded at Thaddeus and bestowed on him a stern glance; it was evident that he had now reached the climax of his speech.
Thereupon the Chamberlain tapped his golden snuffbox and said:—
"My dear Judge, in former times it was still worse. At present I know not whether the fashion changes even us old men, or whether the young men are better than before, but I see less cause of scandal. Ah, I remember the times when on our fatherland there first descended the fashion of imitating the French; when suddenly brisk young gentlemen from foreign lands swarmed in upon us in a horde worse than the Nogai Tatars, abusing here, in our country, God, the faith of our fathers, our law and customs, and even our ancient garments. Pitiable was it to behold the yellow-faced puppies, talking through their noses—and often without noses—stuffed with brochures and newspapers of various sorts, and proclaiming new faiths, laws, and toilets. That rabble had a mighty power over minds, for when the Lord God sends punishment on a nation he first deprives its citizens of reason. And so the wiser heads dared not resist the fops, and the whole nation feared them as some pestilence, for within itself it already felt the germs of disease. They cried out against the dandies but took pattern by them; they changed faith, speech, laws, and costumes. That was a masquerade, the licence of the Carnival season, after which was soon to follow the Lent of slavery.
"I remember,—though then I was but a little child,—when the Cup-Bearer's son came to visit my father in the district of Oszmiana, in a French carriage; he was the first man in Lithuania who wore French clothes. Everybody ran after him as after a buzzard;18 they envied the house before the threshold of which the Cup-Bearer's son halted his two-wheeled chaise, which passed by the French name of cabriolet. Within it sat two dogs instead of footmen, and on the box a German, lean as a board; his long legs, thin as hop-poles, were clad in stockings, and shoes with silver buckles; the tail of his wig was tied up in a sack. The old men burst out laughing at that equipage, but the country boors crossed themselves, saying that a Venetian devil was travelling abroad in a German carriage. To describe the son of the Cup-Bearer himself would be a long story; suffice it to say that he seemed to us an ape or a parrot in a great peruke, which he liked to compare to the Golden Fleece, and we to elf-locks.19 At that time even if any one felt that the Polish costume was more comely than this aping of a foreign fashion, he kept silent, for the young men would have cried out that he was hindering culture, that he was checking progress, that he was a traitor. Such at that time was the power of prejudice!
"The Cup-Bearer's son announced that he was going to reform us and introduce order and civilisation; he proclaimed to us that some eloquent Frenchmen had made a discovery, that all men are equal—though this was written long ago in Holy Writ and every parish priest prates of it from the pulpit. The doctrine was ancient, the question was of its application. But at that time such general blindness prevailed that they did not believe the oldest things in the world if they did not read of them in a French newspaper. The Cup-Bearer's son, despite equality, had taken the title of marquis. It is well known that titles come from Paris, and at that time the title of marquis was in fashion there; however, when in the course of years the fashion changed, this same marquis took the title of democrat; finally, with the changing fashion, under Napoleon, the democrat arrived from Paris as a baron; if he had lived longer, perhaps he would have shifted again, and instead of a baron would have called himself once more a democrat. For Paris boasts of frequent changes of fashion, and whatever a Frenchman invents is dear to a Pole.
"Thank God, that now if our young men go abroad, it is no longer for clothes, nor to seek new laws in wretched printing shops, nor to study eloquence in the cafes of Paris. For now Napoleon, a clever man and a swift, gives us no time to prate or to search for new fashions. Now there is the thunder of arms, and the hearts of us old men exult that the renown of the Poles is spreading so widely throughout the world; glory is ours already, and so we shall soon again have our Republic. From laurels always springs the tree of liberty. Only it is sad that for us the years drag on so long in idleness, and they are always so far away. It is so long to wait!, and even news is so scarce. Father Robak,"20 he said in a lower voice to the Bernardine, "I have heard that you have received tidings from beyond the Niemen; perhaps you know something of our army?"
"Not a thing," answered Robak with indifference; it was evident that he had not enjoyed listening to the talk. "Politics bore me; if I have a letter from Warsaw, it is on business of our Order. That is the affair of us Bernardines; why should we talk of that at supper? Here there are laymen, whom such things do not concern."
So speaking, he looked askance at a Muscovite guest who was sitting among the banqueters; this was Captain Rykov, an old soldier who was quartered in a village hard by, and whom the Judge for courtesy's sake had invited to the supper. Rykov ate with a relish, and had been mixing little in the conversation, but at the mention of Warsaw he raised his head and said, with a Russian accent, and with a few slips of expression:—
"Chamberlain! Ah, sir, you are always curious about Bonaparte, and are always eager to hear from Warsaw. Ah, Fatherland! I am no spy, but I understand Polish.—Fatherland! I feel it all, I understand! You are Poles, I am Russian; just now we are not fighting—there is an armistice, so we are eating and drinking together. Often at the outposts our fellows will be chatting with the French and drinking brandy; when they cry 'Hurrah,' then comes the cannonading. There's a Russian proverb: 'I love the man I fight with; clasp your sweetheart to your heart, but beat her like a fur cloak.' I say we shall have war. An adjutant of the staff came to Major Plut21 the day before yesterday: 'Get ready for the march!' We shall move either against the Turks or the French. O, that Bonaparte is a rare bird! Now that Suvorov is gone maybe he will give us a drubbing. In our regiment we used to say, when we were marching against the French, that Bonaparte was a wizard22—well, so was Suvorov a wizard too, so there were tricks against tricks. Once in battle, where did he disappear? To look for Bonaparte! But he changed himself into a fox, so Suvorov became a hound; so Bonaparte changed again into a cat; they started to claw each other, but Suvorov became a pony. Now notice what happened with Bonaparte finally—"
Here Rykov broke off and began to eat. At that moment the servant came in with the fourth course, and suddenly the side doors were opened.
A new guest, young and fair, came in; her sudden appearance, her beauty and her carriage, her toilet, all attracted the eye. Everybody greeted her; evidently all except Thaddeus were acquainted with her. Her figure was fine and elegant, her bosom charming; her gown was of pink silk, low cut, and with short sleeves, the collar of lace. In her hands she twirled a fan for mere pastime, for it was not hot; the gilded fan as it waved spread around it a dense shower of sparks. Her head was like a milliner's model; the hair was frizzled and curled and intertwined with pink ribbons; amid them a diamond, half hidden from sight, shone like a star in the tail of a comet. In a word it was a holiday toilet; several whispered that it was too elaborate for the country and for every day. Though her skirt was short, the eye could not see her feet, for she ran very swiftly, or rather she glided, like the puppets that on the Festival of the Three Kings boys hidden in booths slide to and fro. She ran in and, greeting all with a slight bow, was about to seat herself in the place reserved for her. That was difficult, for there were no chairs for the guests, who were sitting in four rows on four benches; either a whole row must move or she must climb over the bench. Skilfully she managed to squeeze in between two benches, and then between the table and the line of those seated at it she rolled on like a billiard ball. In her course she brushed past our young man, and, catching a flounce on some one's knee, slipped a little, and in her distraction supported herself on the shoulder of Thaddeus. Politely begging his pardon, she took her seat between him and his uncle, but she ate nothing; she only fanned herself, or twirled the handle of her fan, or adjusted her lace collar, or with a light touch of her hand smoothed her ringlets and the knots of bright ribbon among them.
This interruption of the conversation had lasted some four minutes. Meanwhile there had begun at the end of the table first gentle murmurs and then conversation in a subdued voice; the men were discussing their day's hunting. Between the Assessor23 and the Notary24 there had arisen a stubborn and more and more noisy dispute over a bobtailed hound, in the ownership of which the Notary took pride, maintaining that this dog had caught the hare; while the Assessor was demonstrating, despite the arguments of the Notary, that that honour belonged to his own hound Falcon. They asked the opinion of the others; so all in turn took sides either for Bobtail or for Falcon, some as experts, others as eyewitnesses. At the opposite end of the table the Judge was saying in a low voice to his new neighbour: "I beg your pardon, we had to sit down, it was impossible to put off supper till later; the guests were hungry, for they had had a long walk over the fields; and I thought that to-day you would not join us at table." After these words he talked quietly with the Chamberlain over a full winecup about political affairs.
Since both ends of the table were thus occupied, Thaddeus gazed intently at the unknown lady. He remembered that when he had first glanced at the place he had at once guessed for whom it was destined. He blushed, and his heart beat faster than its wont. So he now beheld, the solution of the mystery upon which he had pondered. So it had been ordained that by his side should sit that beauty whom he had seen in the twilight; to be sure she now seemed of taller stature, for she was in full dress, and costume may make one seem larger or smaller. But the hair of the first had seemed short and of a bright golden colour, while this lady had long, curling, raven tresses. The colour must have come from the sun's rays, which at evenfall shed a glow over everything. At that time he had not noticed the girl's face—she had vanished too quickly. But thought is wont to guess a lovely face; he had imagined that surely she must have black eyes, a fair complexion, and lips as red as twin cherries; in his neighbour he found such a face, such eyes, and such lips. In age perhaps there was the greatest difference; the little gardener had seemed to him a young girl, this lady was already of ripe years. But youth never asks beauty for its baptismal certificate; to a young man every woman is young, to a lad every beauty seems of his own age, and to an innocent boy every sweetheart seems a maiden.
Thaddeus, though he was now almost twenty years of age, and from childhood had dwelt in Wilno, a large city, had been under the charge of a priest, who looked after him and brought him up in the rules of strict old-fashioned virtue. Therefore Thaddeus brought home to his native heath a pure soul, a lively imagination, and an innocent heart, but at the same time no small desire to sow his wild oats. He had some time ago resolved that he would permit himself to enjoy in the country his long forbidden liberty; he knew that he was handsome, he felt himself young and vigorous; and as an inheritance from his parents he had received health and good spirits. His name was Soplica; all the Soplicas, as is well known, are large, strong, powerful men, apt at the soldier's trade, but less diligent over their books.
Thaddeus had not degenerated from his forebears; he rode well on horseback and walked well; he was not dull, but he had made little progress in his studies, though his uncle had spared nothing on his education. He liked better to shoot, or to practise with a sabre; he knew that they had intended to fit him for the army, that his father in his will had expressed this desire; while sitting in school he yearned constantly for the sound of the drum. But his uncle had suddenly changed his first intentions, and had sent him word to come home and to marry and take over the farming; he had promised to give him at first a little village, and later the whole estate.
All these virtues and good qualities of Thaddeus had attracted the gaze of his neighbour, an observant woman. She had measured his tall and shapely form, his strong shoulders, his broad chest, and she looked into his face, on which a blush rose as often as the young man met her eyes. For he had already entirely recovered from his first timidity, and looked on her with a bold glance, in which fire blazed; even so did she gaze on him, and their four pupils glowed opposite one another as do candles at the Advent mass.
She started a conversation with him in French. Thaddeus had returned from town, from school: so she asked his opinions about new books and authors, and from his answers derived new questions; she went so far as to speak of painting, of music, of dancing—even of sculpture! She proved herself equally familiar with the pencil, with tunes, and with books, until Thaddeus was petrified by so much learning, and feared that he might become the butt of ridicule, and stammered like a little lad before his teacher. Luckily the teacher was beautiful and lenient; his neighbour guessed the cause of his perturbation, and shifted the talk to less deep and difficult subjects, to the cares and troubles of existence in the country, and how one must amuse oneself, and how divide the time in order to make village life gay and pleasant. Thaddeus answered more boldly, and things went better; in a half-hour they were already fast friends, they even started jests and small quarrels. Finally she placed before him three little balls of bread, three persons to select from; he chose the nearest. The two daughters of the Chamberlain frowned at this; his neighbour laughed, but she did not tell him whom that happy ball was meant to signify.
At the other end of the table they were amusing themselves quite differently, for there the adherents of Falcon, suddenly gathering strength, descended pitilessly on the party of Bobtail. Mighty was the strife; they had not yet eaten the last courses; standing up and drinking, the two factions wrangled. But most terribly was the Notary ruffled—just like a blackcock; when he had once begun, he poured forth his speech without a pause, and adorned it most effectively by his gestures. (The Notary, Pan Bolesta, had once been a lawyer; they called him the preacher, because he was over fond of gestures.) Now he had placed his hands on his sides, extending his elbows backward, and from under his armpits he was thrusting forward his fingers and long nails, thereby representing two leashes of hounds. He was just concluding his speech:—
"Hurrah! The Assessor and I let them go at once, at the very same time, as if the two triggers on a double-barrelled gun had been pressed by one finger. Hurrah! They started, and the hare like an arrow shot into the field; the dogs after him—" (Here as he spoke he ran his hands over the table and with his fingers marvellously imitated the movement of the dogs) "the dogs after him, and they headed him off a bit from the wood. Falcon rushed forward, a fleet dog, but with a poor head; he got the start of Bobtail by so much, a finger's breadth; I knew that he would miss. The hare was no common rogue; he made as if straight for the field, and after him the pack of hounds. The rogue of a hare I Once he knew that the dogs were in a bunch, pst! he went to the right, with a somersault, and after him the stupid hounds; but again, zip! to the left, in just two jumps. The dogs after him, zip! to the left, and my Bobtail, whack!"
Shouting thus the Notary leaned over the table and ran his fingers clear to the other side, and screamed "whack" just over the ear of Thaddeus. Thaddeus and his neighbour, suddenly startled right in the middle of a conversation by this outburst, involuntarily withdrew their heads from each other, like treetops tied together, when the storm parts them; their hands, which had been lying close together under the table, quickly drew apart, and their two faces were clothed with a single blush.
"It is true, my dear Notary," said Thaddeus, in order not to betray his embarrassment, "it is true, without doubt; Bobtail is a finely built hound—if he is equally good at seizing the game."
"Good at seizing!" cried the Notary, "my favourite dog; the idea of his not being good at seizing!"
So Thaddeus once more expressed his pleasure that so handsome a dog had no fault; regretted that he had seen him only as he was returning from the wood, and that he had not had time to appreciate all his good points.
At this the Assessor trembled, dropped his wine-glass from his hand, and levelled at Thaddeus the glance of a basilisk. The Assessor was less noisy and less given to gestures than the Notary, thinner and shorter; but he was terrible at masquerade, ball, or village diet, for they said of him that he had a sting in his tongue. He could make up such witty jests that you might have had them printed in the almanac; they were all so malicious and pointed. He had formerly been a man of property, but he had entirely squandered his inheritance from his father, and his brother's estate as well, through cutting a figure in high society; now he had entered the service of the government, in order to be of some importance in the district. He was very fond of hunting, both for the sport of it and because the peal of the horn and the sight of the circle of beaters recalled to him the days of his youth, when he had kept many hunters and many famous hounds. Of his whole kennel but two dogs remained, and now they wanted to belittle the glory of one of these! So he approached, and, slowly stroking his side whiskers, said with a laugh—but it was a laugh full of poison:—
"A hound without a tail is like a gentleman without an office. A tail is likewise a great help to a hound in running. And do you, sir, regard the lack of one as a proof of excellence? However, we may refer the matter to the judgment of your aunt. Though Pani Telimena has been living in the capital, and has only recently been visiting our neighbourhood, yet she knows more about hunting than do young sportsmen: for knowledge comes of itself with years."
Thaddeus, upon whom this thunderstorm had unexpectedly descended, arose in confusion, and for some moments said nothing, but looked upon his rival more and more terribly and sternly; at that moment by great good luck the Chamberlain sneezed twice. "Vivat!" cried everybody; he bowed to the company, and slowly tapped his snuffbox with his fingers. The snuffbox was of gold, set with diamonds, and in the middle of it was a portrait of King Stanislaw.25 The king himself had given it to the father of the Chamberlain; after his father the Chamberlain bore it worthily; whenever he tapped upon it, it was a sign that he wished to have the floor for a speech. All became silent, no one dared open his lips. He spoke:—
"Honoured gentlemen, my beloved brothers, the woods and meadows alone are the hunter's forum, therefore such matters I will not pass upon within doors, but I will dissolve our sitting until to-morrow, and will not permit further argument from either faction to-day. Apparitor, call the case for to-morrow in the field! To-morrow the Count too will be here with all his hunting train, and you, my neighbour Judge, will ride out with us, and Pani Telimena, and the young ladies and gentlemen; in a word we will form a great official hunting party, and the Seneschal, too, will not deny us his companionship."
So saying he offered his snuffbox to the old man.
The Seneschal had been sitting at the corner among the hunters; he had been listening with closed eyes, but had said not a word, although the young men had often inquired his opinion, for no one understood hunting better than he. He kept silent, weighed in his fingers the pinch of snuff that he had taken from the box, and meditated long before he finally used it; he sneezed until the whole room echoed, and shaking his head, he said with a bitter smile:—
"O how this saddens and amazes me in my old age! What would the hunters of old times say of this, if they should see that amid so many gentlemen, in so large a gathering, disputes over a hound's tail had to be debated? What would old Rejtan say of this were he to come to life again? He would go back to Lachowicze and lay himself in his grave. What would the old wojewoda Niesiolowski26 say, a man who still has the finest kennel in the world, and maintains in lordly wise two hundred hunters, and who has a hundred waggon-loads of nets in his castle of Woroncza, and yet for so many years has been abiding like a monk within his house? No one can persuade him to accept an invitation to hunt; he refused even Bialopiotrowicz27 himself! For what would he capture at your hunts? It would be fine glory, if such a gentleman, in accordance with the present fashion, should ride out against rabbits! In my time, sir, in hunter's language, the boar, the bear, the elk, the wolf were known as noble beasts, but beasts without tusks, horns, or claws were left for hired servants or farm labourers. No gentleman would ever consent to take in hand a musket that had been put to shame by having small shot sprinkled in it! To be sure they kept hounds, for when they were returning from a hunt it might happen that some wretched hare would start up from beneath a steed; then they let loose the pack at it for sport, and the little lads chased it on ponies before the eyes of their parents, who hardly deigned to look on such a chase, much less to quarrel over it! So I beg that Your Honour the Chamberlain will deign to recall your commands, and will forgive me that I cannot ride to such a hunting party, and never will set foot in one! My name is Hreczecha, and since the days of King Lech28 no Hreczecha has ever ridden out after hares."
Here the laughter of the young men drowned the speech of the Seneschal. They rose from the table; the Chamberlain moved first; this honour befitted him from his age and his office; as he advanced he bowed to the ladies, the old men, and the young men. After him went the Collector of Alms, and the Judge alongside the Bernardine; at the threshold the Judge offered his arm to the Chamberlain's wife, Thaddeus to Telimena, the Assessor to the Carver's daughter, and finally the Notary to Panna Hreczecha, the daughter of the Seneschal.
Thaddeus went to the stable with several of the guests, and felt disturbed, glum, and morose; he thought over all the events of the day, the meeting and the supper by the side of his fair neighbour—and in particular the word "aunt" buzzed continually in his ear like an importunate fly. He would have liked to learn more about Pani Telimena from the Apparitor, but he could not catch him; nor did he see the Seneschal, for immediately after supper all had followed the guests out, as befits serving men, and had gone to prepare the rooms for rest. The older people and the ladies slept in the mansion; the young men Thaddeus, as the host's representative, had been directed to take to the stable, where they were to sleep on the hay.
Within a half-hour it was as quiet on the whole estate as in a cloister after the bell for prayer; the silence was interrupted only by the voice of the night watchman. All were asleep. The Judge alone did not close his eyes; as the head of the estate, he was thinking over a walking party, and the coming entertainment within the house. He gave orders to the stewards, the overseers, and the grain-wardens; to the scribes, the housekeeper, the huntsmen, and the grooms; and he had to look through all the day's accounts; finally he told the Apparitor that he wished to undress. The Apparitor undid his belt, a belt from Sluck,29 a massive belt, on which glittered tassels thick as helmet-plumes; on one side it was gold brocade with purple flowers, on the reverse black silk with silver cross-stripes. Such a belt may be worn equally well on either side, golden for a holiday, and black for mourning. The Apparitor alone knew how to undo and fold up this belt; he took this trouble upon himself and ended with the following speech:—
"Where was the harm that I moved the tables to the old castle? No one has lost thereby, and you, sir, will perhaps gain, for the suit now before the court concerns the ownership of that castle. From this day we have acquired a right to the castle, and notwithstanding all the fury of the opposite side I will prove that we have taken the castle into our possession. For whoever invites guests to supper in a castle proves that he holds possession there—or takes it; we will even summon the opposite side as witnesses: I remember such happenings in my time."
The Judge was already asleep. So the Apparitor quietly went out into the hall, seated himself by a candle, and took from his pocket a little book that always served him as a Prayer Book,30 and from which he never was parted, either at home or on a journey. It was the Court Calendar;31 there in order were written down cases which years ago the Apparitor had proclaimed with his own voice, before the authorities, or of which he had managed to learn later. To common men the Calendar seems a mere list of names, but to the Apparitor it was a succession of magnificent pictures. So he read and mused: Oginski and Wizgird, the Dominicans and Rymsza, Rymsza and Wysogierd, Radziwill and Wereszczaka, Giedrojc and Rodultowski, Obuchowicz and the Jewish commune, Juraha and Piotrowski, Maleski and Mickiewicz, and finally Count Horeszko and Soplica; and, as he read, he called forth from these names the memory of mighty cases, and all the events of the trial; and before his eyes stand the court, plaintiff, defendant, and witnesses; and he beholds himself, how in a white smock and dark blue kontusz he stands before the tribunal, with one hand on his sabre and the other on the table, summoning the two parties. "Silence!" he calls. Thus dreaming and finishing his evening prayer, gradually the last court apparitor in Lithuania fell asleep.
Such were the amusements and disputes of those days in the quiet Lithuanian village, while the rest of the world was swimming in tears and blood, and while that man, the god of war, surrounded by a cloud of regiments, armed with a thousand cannon, harnessing to his chariot golden eagles beside those of silver,32 was flying from the deserts of Libya to the lofty Alps, casting thunderbolt on thunderbolt, at the Pyramids, at Tabor, Marengo, Ulm, and Austerlitz. Victory and Conquest ran before and after him. The glory of so many exploits, heavy with the names of heroes, went roaring from the Nile to the North, until at the shores of the Niemen it was beaten back as from crags by the Muscovite lines that defended Lithuania as with walls of iron against tidings terrible for Russia as the plague.
And yet now and then, like a stone from the sky, news came even to Lithuania; now and then an old man, lacking a hand or a foot, who was begging his bread, would stand and cast cautious eyes around, when he had received alms. If he saw no Russian soldiers in the yard, or Jewish caps, or red collars, then he would confess who he was: he was a member of the Polish legions, and was bringing back his old bones to that fatherland which he could no longer defend. Then how all the family—how even the servants embraced him, choking with tears! He would seat himself at the board and tell of history more strange than fable; he would relate how General Dombrowski33 was making efforts to penetrate from the Italian land into Poland, how he was gathering his countrymen on the plains of Lombardy; how Kniaziewicz34 was issuing commands from the Roman Capitol, and how, as a victor, he had cast in the eyes of the French an hundred bloody standards torn from the descendants of the Cæsars; how Jablonowski35 had reached the land where the pepper grows and where sugar is produced, and where in eternal spring bloom fragrant woods: with the legion of the Danube there the Polish general smites the negroes, but sighs for his native soil.
The words of the old man would spread secretly through the village; the lad who heard them would vanish suddenly from home, would steal mysteriously through the forests and swamps, pursued by the Muscovites, would leap to hiding in the Niemen, and beneath its flood swim to the shore of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, where he would hear sweet words of greeting, "Welcome, comrade!" But before he departed, he would climb a stony hill and call to the Muscovites across the Niemen: "Until we meet again!" Thus there had stolen away Gorecki, Pac, and Obuchowicz; Piotrowski, Obolewski, Rozycki, Janowicz, the Mirzejewskis, Brochocki and the brothers Bernatowicz, Kupsc, Gedymin, and others whom I will not enumerate; they had abandoned their kinsmen and their beloved land, and their estates, which were seized for the Tsar's treasury.
Sometimes there came to Lithuania a collector of alms from a foreign convent, and after he became more closely acquainted with the lords of an estate, he would show them a gazette, which he cut out from his scapulary. In it would be set forth the number of soldiers and the names of all the leaders in every legion; with an account of the victory of each or of his doom. After many years, a family would have news for the first time of the life, the glory, or the death of a son; the house would put on mourning, but dared not tell for whom they mourned. The neighbours merely guessed the news, and only the quiet grief of the gentry, or their quiet joy, was the gazette of the peasants.
Robak was probably just such a mysterious collector of alms; he often conversed apart with the Judge, and always after these talks tidings of some sort spread abroad in the neighbourhood. The bearing of the Bernardine betrayed the fact that this monk had not always worn a cowl, and had not grown old within cloister walls. Over his right ear, somewhat above his temple, he had a scar as broad as one's palm, where the skin had been sheared off; and on his chin was the recent trace of a lance or bullet; these wounds he had surely not received while reading the missal. But not merely his grim glance and his scars, even his movements and his voice had something soldierlike about them.
At the Mass, when with uplifted arms he turned from the altar to the people, in order to pronounce, "The Lord be with you," he often turned as skilfully—with a single movement—as if he were executing a right-about-face at the command of his captain; and he pronounced the words of the liturgy to the people in the same tone as an officer standing before a squadron: the boys who served him at the mass remarked this. Robak was also better versed in political affairs than in the lives of the saints; and when he was riding about gathering alms he often tarried in the district town. He had a multitude of interests: now he received letters, which he never opened in the presence of strangers; now he sent off messengers, but whither and for what he did not say; often he stole out by night to the squires' mansions, and continually whispered with the gentry; he trudged through all the neighbouring villages, and in the taverns talked not a little with the village boors, and always of what was going on in foreign lands. Now he came to arouse the Judge, who had already been an hour asleep; surely he had some tidings.