Pan Tadeusz/Chapter 12
LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER!
Finally with a crash the doors of the hall were thrown wide open, and the Seneschal entered, wearing a cap, and with his head held high; he did not greet the company nor take his place at the table, for to-day the Seneschal emerged in a new character, as Marshal of the Court; he bore a wand in sign of office, and with this wand he indicated to each in turn his place and showed the guests their seats. First of all, as the highest in authority in the wojewodeship, the Chamberlain-Marshal took the place of honour, a velvet chair with ivory arms; next him on the right sat General Dombrowski, and on the left Kniaziewicz, Pac,203 and Malachowski. Amid this company the Chamberlain's wife had her seat; farther on other ladies, officers, magnates, country gentry, and neighbours, men and women alternately, all took places in order as the Seneschal indicated.
The Judge, with a bow, withdrew from the banquet; in the yard he was entertaining a throng of peasants, whom he had gathered at a table a furlong in length; he himself sat at one end and the parish priest at the other. Thaddeus and Sophia did not take seats at the table; being occupied with serving the peasants, they ate as they walked. Such was the ancient custom—that new owners of a farm, at the first feast, should wait on the common folk.
Meanwhile the guests, as in the castle hall they awaited the bringing in of the food, gazed with amazement at the great centrepiece, the metal and the workmanship of which were equally precious. There is a tradition that Prince Radziwill the Orphan204 had this set made to order in Venice, and had it decorated in Polish style according to his own ideas. The centrepiece had later been carried off in the time of the Swedish wars,205 and had found its way in some mysterious manner into this country gentleman's mansion; to-day it had been brought forth from the treasury and it now occupied the middle of the table, forming an immense circle, like a coach wheel.
The centrepiece, which was coated from rim to rim with froth and sugar white as snow, counterfeited marvellously well a winter landscape. In the centre a huge grove of confections showed dark; on the sides were houses which seemed to form peasant villages and hamlets of gentry, and which were coated, not with hoar frost, but with sugary froth; the edges were decorated with little porcelain figures in Polish costumes: like actors on a stage, they were evidently representing some striking event; their gestures were artistically reproduced, the colours were individual; they lacked only voice—for the rest they seemed to be alive.
"What is it that they represent?" asked the curious guests; whereupon the Seneschal, raising his wand, spoke as follows (meanwhile brandy was being served, in preparation for dinner):—
"With your permission, honoured gentlemen and guests, those persons whom you see there in countless numbers represent the progress of a Polish district diet, its consultations, voting, triumphs, and disputes; I myself guessed the meaning of this scene, and I will explain it to the company.
"There on the right may be seen a numerous assembly of gentry: they have evidently been invited to a banquet, preceding the diet; the board is waiting ready set, but no one is showing the guests their seats; they are standing in groups, and each group is deep in discussion. Notice that in the centre of each group stands a man from whose parted lips, wide-open eyes, and restless hands you may see that he is an orator and is expounding something, that he is explaining it with his finger and marking it on his palm. These orators are recommending their candidates with various success, as may be seen from the bearing of the brother gentlemen.
"You may be sure that there in the second group the gentry are listening with attention: this good man has tucked his hands into his belt and has pricked up his ears; that other is holding his hand to his ear and is silently twirling his mustache; he is evidently gathering in the words and storing them up in his memory. The orator takes solid comfort in seeing that his hearers are converted; he strokes his pocket, for he already has their votes in his pocket.
"But in the third gathering the situation is quite different: here the orator must catch his auditors by their belts—notice how they are pulling away and turning aside their ears; notice how this auditor bristles with wrath; he has raised his arms and is threatening the orator and stopping his mouth; he has evidently heard praise showered on his opponent. That other man has bent down his brow like a bull; you might think him about to toss the orator on his horns. This party are drawing their sabres, and those others have started to flee."
"One gentleman stands silent and alone between the groups; he is evidently a non-partisan and is timidly hesitating for whom to give his vote! He does not know, and is at odds with himself; he leaves it to chance—he has lifted up his hands and extended his thumbs; with his eyes shut he aims nail against nail; evidently he will trust his vote to fortune; if the thumbs meet, he will cast an affirmative ballot, but if they miss he will deposit a negative.
"On the left is another scene, a convent refectory, transformed into the assembly hall of the gentry. The older men are seated in a row on benches; the younger are standing and looking curiously over their heads towards the centre; in the centre stands the Marshal, holding the urn in his hands; he is counting the balls, and the gentry devour them with their eyes; he has just shaken out the last one: the Apparitors raise their hands and announce the name of the elected official.
"One gentlemen has no respect for the general concord: see, he has thrust in his head from the window of the refectory kitchen; see his wide-open eyes, how insolently he stares; he has opened his mouth as though he wanted to eat up the whole roomful: it is easy to guess that this gentlemen has shouted ‘Veto!’ See how at that sudden challenge to a quarrel the throng is crowding to the door; they are evidently on their way to the kitchen; they have drawn their swords, and a bloody fight is sure to break out.
"But there in the corridor, sirs, pray notice that reverend old priest advancing in his chasuble; that is the Prior bringing the Host from the altar, while a boy in a surplice rings a bell and asks all to give way. The gentry at once sheathe their sabres, cross themselves, and kneel; but the priest turns in the direction whence a clink of arms is still heard: soon he will arrive, and at once he will calm and reconcile all.
"Ah, you young men, do not remember this, how among our turbulent, self-willed gentry, always under arms though they were, no police were ever needed: while the true faith flourished, laws were respected; there was liberty with order and glory along with plenty I In other lands, I hear, the government maintains soldiers and all sorts of policemen, gendarmes, and constables. But if the sword alone guards the public security, then I shall never believe that liberty can exist in those lands."
Suddenly, tapping his snuffbox, the Chamberlain said:—
"Seneschal, I pray you, postpone these stories until later; this diet is a curious thing, to be sure, but we are hungry; pray, sir, have them bring in the dinner."
Bending down his wand to the floor, the Seneschal replied:—
"Your Excellency, pray grant me this indulgence; I will speedily finish with the last scene of the district diets. Here is the new Marshal, borne out of the refectory on the shoulders of his partisans; see how the brother gentlemen are throwing up their caps and standing with open mouths—vivats! But there on the other side lingers the outvoted candidate, all alone, with his cap pulled down over his gloomy brow; his wife is waiting in front of her house, and has guessed what is going on. Poor woman, now she is fainting in the arms of her maid! Poor woman, she was to have received the title of Right Honourable, but now she is left just Honourable for three more years!"
Here the Seneschal concluded his description, and gave a sign with his wand; immediately lackeys began to enter in pairs, bringing the different dishes: the beet soup called royal, and the old-Polish broth, artistically prepared, into which the Seneschal in marvellous and mysterious wise had thrown several pearls and a piece of money; such broth purifies the blood and fortifies the health; after it came other dishes—but who could describe them all! Who would even comprehend those dishes of kontuz, arkas, and blemas,206 no longer known in our times, with their ingredients of cod, stuffing, civet, musk, caramel, pine nuts, damson plums! And those fish! Dry salmon from the Danube, sturgeon, Venetian and Turkish caviare, pikes and pickerel a cubit long, flounders, and capon carp, and noble carp! Finally a culinary mystery: an uncut fish, fried at the head, baked in the middle, and with its tail in a ragout with sauce.
The guests did not ask the names of the dishes, nor were they halted by that curious mystery; they ate everything rapidly with a soldier's appetite, filling their glasses with the generous Hungarian wine.
But meanwhile the great centrepiece had changed its colour,207 and, stripped of its snow, had already turned green; for the light froth of sugared ice, slowly warmed by the summer heat, had melted and disclosed a foundation hitherto hidden from the eye: so the landscape now represented a new time of year, shining with a green, many-coloured spring. Various grains came forth, as if yeast were making them grow; gilded ears of saffron wheat were seen in rich profusion, also rye, clad in leaves of picturesque silver, and buckwheat, made artistically of chocolate, and orchards blooming with pears and apples.
The guests had scant time to enjoy the gifts of summer; in vain they begged the Seneschal to prolong them. Already the centrepiece, like a planet in its appointed revolution, was changing the season of the year; already the grain, painted with gold, had gathered warmth from the room, and was slowly melting; already the grasses were growing yellow and the leaves were turning crimson and were falling; you might have said that an autumn wind was blowing; finally those trees, gorgeous an instant before, now stood naked, as if they had been stripped by the winds and the frost; they were sticks of cinnamon, or twigs of laurel that counterfeited pines, being clad in caraway seeds instead of needles.
The guests, as they drank their wine, began to tear off the branches, stumps, and roots, and to chew them as a relish. The Seneschal walked about the centrepiece, and, full of joy, turned triumphant eyes upon the guests.
Henryk Dombrowski feigned great amazement, and said:—
"My friend the Seneschal, are these Chinese shadows? Or has Pinety208 given you his demons as servants? Do such centrepieces still exist among you, here in Lithuania, and do all men feast in this ancient fashion? Tell me, for I have passed my life abroad."
"No, Your Excellency the General," said the Seneschal with a bow, "these are no godless arts! This is only a reminder of those famous banquets that used to be given in the mansions of our ancient magnates, when Poland enjoyed happiness and power! All that I have done I learned by reading in this book. You ask me whether this custom has been preserved everywhere in Lithuania. Alas, new fashions are already creeping in even among us! Many a young gentleman exclaims that he cannot stand the expense; he eats like a Jew, grudging his guests food and drink; he is stingy with the Hungarian wine, and drinks that devilish, adulterated, fashionable Muscovite champagne; then in the evening he loses as much money at cards as would suffice for a banquet for a hundred gentlemen and brothers. Even—for what I have in my heart I will to-day speak out frankly; let not the Chamberlain take it ill of me—when I was getting that wonderful centre-*piece from the treasure room, then even the Chamberlain, even he made fun of me, saying that this was a tiresome, antiquated contrivance—that it looked like a child's plaything and was unfit for such famous men as we have with us to-day! Judge!—even you, Judge, said that it would bore the guests! And yet, so far as I may infer from the amazement of the company, I see that this is fine art, that it was worthy of being seen! I doubt whether a like occasion will ever again return for entertaining at Soplicowo such dignitaries. I see, General, that you are an expert at banquets; pray accept this book: it will be of use to you some day when you are giving a feast for a company of foreign monarchs, or perhaps one even for Napoleon himself. But permit me, before I tender the book to you, to relate by what chance it fell into my hands."
Suddenly a murmur arose outside the door, and many voices shouted in unison, "Long live Cock-on-the-Steeple!" A throng pushed into the hall, with Maciej at their head. The Judge led the guest by the hand to the table and gave him a high seat among the leaders, saying:—
"Pan Maciej, unkind neighbour, you come very late, when dinner is almost over."
"I eat early," replied Dobrzynski; "I did not come here for food, but only because I was overpowered by curiosity to see close at hand our national army. Of this much might be said; it is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. These gentlemen caught sight of me and brought me here by force; and you, sir, are compelling me to seat myself at your table—I thank you, neighbour."
With these words he turned his plate bottom upwards, as a sign that he would not eat, and relapsed into glum silence.
"Pan Dobrzynski," said General Dombrowski to him, "are you that famous swordsman of the Kosciuszko times, that Maciej, called Switch! Your fame has reached me. And pray tell me, is it possible that you are still so hale, so vigorous! How many years have gone by! See, I have grown old; see, Kniaziewicz too has grizzled hair; but you might still enter the lists against young men. And your switch doubtless blooms as it did long ago; I have heard that recently you birched the Muscovites. But where are your brethren? I should beyond measure like to see those penknives and razors of yours, the last relics of ancient Lithuania."
"After that victory, General," said the Judge, "almost all the Dobrzynskis took refuge in the Grand Duchy, and must have entered one or other of the legions."
"Why certainly," answered a young squadron commander, "I have in the second company a mustachioed scarecrow, Sergeant-Major Dobrzynski, who calls himself Sprinkler, but whom the Masovians call the Lithuanian bear. If you bid me, General, we will have him brought in."
"There are several other natives of Lithuania here," said a lieutenant. "One such soldier is known under the name of Razor; another carries a blunderbuss and rides with the sharp-shooters; there are likewise two grenadiers named Dobrzynski in the chasseur regiment."
"Well, but I want to know about their chief," said the General, "about that Penknife of whom the Seneschal has told me so many marvels, worthy of one of the giants of old times."
"Penknife," said the Seneschal, "though he did not go into exile, nevertheless feared the result of an investigation, and hid himself from the Muscovites; all winter the poor fellow roamed about the forests, and he has only recently come forth from them. In these times of war he might have been good for something, for he is a valorous man, only he is unfortunately a trifle bowed by age. But here he is."
Here the Seneschal pointed towards the vestibule, where servants and peasants were standing crowded together. Above the heads of all a shining bald pate showed itself suddenly like the full moon; thrice it emerged and thrice it vanished in the cloud of heads; the Warden was bowing as he strode forward, until finally he made his way out of the press, and said:—
"Your Excellency the Hetman of the Crown—or General—never mind which is the correct title—I am Rembajlo, and I present myself at your summons with this my penknife, which, not by its setting nor by its inscriptions but by its temper, has won such fame that even Your Excellency knows of it. If it knew how to speak, perchance it would say somewhat in praise even of this old arm, which, thank God, has served long and faithfully the Fatherland and likewise the family of the Horeszkos: of which fact the memory is still famous among men. My boy, rarely does a bookkeeper on an estate mend pens so deftly as this penknife cleaves heads: it were long to count them! And noses and ears without number! But there is not a single nick upon it, and no murderous deed has ever stained it, but only open war, or a duel. Only once!—may the Lord give him eternal rest!—an unarmed man, alas, fell beneath its edge! But even that, God is my witness, was pro publico bono."
"Show it to me," said General Dombrowski with a laugh. "That is a lovely penknife, a real headsman's sword!"
He gazed with amazement on the huge blade, and passed it on to the other officers; all of them tried it, but hardly one of the officers could lift that blade on high. They said that Dembinski,209 famous for his strength of arm, could have brandished the broadsword, but he was not there. Of those present only the squadron commander Dwernicki,210 and Lieutenant Rozycki,211 the leader of a platoon, managed to swing the iron pole: thus the blade was passed for trial from hand to hand along the line.
But General Kniaziewicz, the tallest of stature, proved to be also the stoutest of arm. Seizing the huge blade, he swung it as lightly as a common sword and flashed it like lightning over the heads of the guests, recalling to their minds the tricks of the Polish school of fencing, the cross stroke, the mill, the crooked slash, the downright blow, the stolen slash, and the attitudes of counterpoint212 and tierce, which he knew likewise, for he had been trained in the School of Cadets.
While he was still laughing and fencing, Rembajlo had kneeled and embraced him about the knees, and was groaning out between his tears, at every turn of the sword:—
"Beautiful! General, were you ever a confederate? Beautiful, splendid! That is the Pulawskis'213 thrust! Thus Dzierzanowski214 bore himself! That is Sawa's thrust! Who can so have trained your arm except Maciej Dobrzynski! But that? General, that is my invention; in Heaven's name, I do not wish to boast, but that stroke is known only in Rembajlo hamlet, and from my name it is called My-boy's slash. Who can have taught it to you? That is my stroke, mine!"
He rose and clasped the General in his arms.
"Now I can die in peace! There still exists a man who will fondle my darling child; for I have long been grieving, both day and night, at the thought that after my death this my blade might rust away! Now it will not rust! Your Excellency the General, forgive me!—throw away those spits, those German swordlets; it is shameful for a gentleman's son to wear that little cane! Take instead a sabre such as befits a gentleman: now I lay at your feet this my penknife, which is the most precious thing that I possess in all the world. I have never had a wife, I have never had a child: it has been both wife and child to me; from my embrace it has never departed; from dawn till dark have I petted it; it has slept by night at my side! And since I have grown old, it has been hanging on the wall above my couch, like God's commandments over the Jews! I thought to have it buried in my grave along with my arm; but I have found an owner for it. May it be your servant!"
The General, half laughing, and half touched with emotion, replied:—
"Comrade, if you give up to me your wife and child, you will be left for the rest of your life very solitary and old, a widower and without children! Tell me how I may recompense you for this precious gift, and with what I may sweeten your childless widowhood!"
"Am I Cybulski,"215 answered the Warden mournfully, "who gambled away his wife, playing marriage with the Muscovites, as the song relates?—I am quite content that my penknife will still gleam before the world in such a hand. Only remember, General, to give it a long strap, well let out, for the blade is long; and always hew from the left ear with both hands—then you will cut through from head to belly."
The General took the penknife, but since it was very long and he could not wear it, the servants put it away in an ammunition waggon. As to what became of it there are various tales, but no one knew with certainty, either then or later.
Dombrowski turned to Maciek:—
"What have you to say, comrade? Can it be that you are not glad at our coming? Why are you silent and glum? How can your heart help leaping up when you see the gold and silver eagles, and when the trumpeters trumpet Kosciuszko's reveille close to your ear? Maciek, I thought that you were more of a fighting man: if you do not seize your sabre and mount your horse, at least you will gaily drink with your colleagues to the health of Napoleon and the hopes of Poland!"
"Ha!" said Maciej, "I have heard and I see what is going on! But, sir, two eagles never nest together! Lords' favour, hetman, rides a piebald steed!216 The Emperor a great hero! On that subject we could expend much talk! I remember that my friends the Pulawskis used to say, as they gazed on Dumouriez,217 that Poland needed a Polish hero, no Frenchman or Italian either, but a Piast,218 a Jan or a Jozef, or a Maciek—that's all. The army! They say it is Polish! But these fusileers, sappers, grenadiers, and cannoneers! You hear, in that crowd, more German than native titles!219 Who can understand them! And then you must certainly have with you Turks or Tatars or Schismatics, or men of God knows what faith: I have seen it myself; they are assaulting the peasant women in the villages, plundering the passers-by, pillaging the churches! The Emperor is bound for Moscow! That is a long road if he has set out without the blessing of God. I have heard that he has already incurred the bishop's curse;220 all this is—"
Here Maciej dipped some bread in his soup, munched it, and did not finish his last phrase.
Maciek's speech did not suit the taste of the Chamberlain, and the young men began to murmur; the Judge interrupted the wrangling, by announcing the arrival of the third betrothed couple.
It was the Notary; he announced himself as the Notary, but nobody recognised him. He had hitherto worn the Polish costume, but now his future wife, Telimena, had forced him by a clause in the marriage articles to renounce the kontusz;221 so the Notary willy-nilly had assumed French garb. The dress coat had evidently deprived him of half his soul; he strode along as if he had swallowed a walking-stick, stiffly and straight forward; like a crane, he dared not look to the right or the left. His expression was composed, and yet from his expression one could see that he was in torture; he did not know how to bow or where to put his hands, he, who was so fond of gestures! He tucked his hands into his belt—there was no belt—he only stroked himself on the stomach; he noticed his mistake, was greatly confused, turned red as a lobster, and hid both his hands in the same pocket of his dress coat. He advanced as if running the gauntlet, amid whispers and banter, feeling as ashamed of his dress coat as of a dishonourable deed; at last he met the eyes of Maciek, and trembled with fright.
Maciej had hitherto lived on very friendly terms with the Notary; but now he turned on him so sharp and furious a glance that the Notary grew pale and began to button his coat, thinking that Maciej would tear it off him with his glance. Dobrzynski merely repeated twice over in a loud voice, "Idiot!" and was so fearfully disgusted with the Notary's change of garb that he at once rose from the table; slipping out without saying good-bye, he mounted his horse and returned to the hamlet.
But meanwhile the Notary's fair sweetheart, Telimena, was spreading abroad the gleams of her beauty and of her toilet, from top to toe of the very latest style. What manner of gown she wore, and what her coiffure was like, it were vain to write, for the pen could never express it; only the pencil could portray those tulles, muslins, laces, cashmeres, pearls and precious stones—and her rosy cheeks and lively glances!
The Count at once recognised her, and, pale with astonishment, rose from the table and looked about him for his sword.
"And is it thou!" he cried, "or do my eyes deceive me? Thou? In my presence? Dost clasp another's hand? O faithless being, O traitorous soul! And dost thou not hide thy face for shame beneath the earth? Art thou so unmindful of thy vows so lately made? Ah, man of easy faith! Why have I worn these ribbons! But woe to the rival who so contemns me! Only across my body shall he advance to the altar!"
The guests arose; the Notary was in frightful distress; the Chamberlain was making hurried efforts to reconcile the rivals, but Telimena, taking the Count aside, whispered to him:—
"The Notary has not yet taken me as his wife: if you have anything against his doing so, answer me this, and answer me right off, short and to the point: do you love me, have you not yet changed your affections, are you ready to marry me right off; right off, to-day? If you agree, I will give up the Notary."
"O woman beyond my comprehension!" said the Count, "formerly in thy feelings thou wast poetic; but now thou seemest altogether prosaic. What are your marriages except chains that bind only the hands and not the spirit? Believe me, there are proffers of love even without an avowal of it, and there are duties even without an engagement! Two burning hearts at the two ends of the earth converse together like stars with trembling beams. Who knows? Perhaps for this very reason the earth so aspires towards the sun, and is thus ever dear to the moon—that they gaze upon each other eternally, and run towards each other by the shortest path, but can never draw near to each other!"
"Enough of that," she interrupted; "by the grace of God I am no planet, Count! Enough, Count, I am a woman. I know what's coming; make an end to all this chatter. Now I warn you; if you utter one word to break off my marriage, then, as God is in Heaven, I will jump at you with these nails and—"
"I will not disturb your happiness, madam," said the Count, and he turned away his eyes, full of grief and contempt; and, in order to punish his faithless sweetheart, he chose the Chamberlain's daughter as the object of his constant flames.
The Seneschal was eager to make peace between the estranged young men by citing wise examples, so he began to recount the story of the wild boar of the forests of Naliboki, and of the quarrel between Rejtan and the Prince de Nassau;222 but meanwhile the guests had finished eating their ices and were going outside the castle into the yard, to enjoy the fresh air.
There the peasantry were just finishing their banquet, and pitchers of mead were going the rounds; the musicians were already tuning their instruments and summoning people to dance. They looked for Thaddeus, who was standing some distance away and whispering something of pressing moment to his future wife:—
"Sophia, I must take counsel with you in a very important matter; I have already asked my uncle's opinion, and he is not opposed. You know that a considerable portion of the villages that I am to be the owner of, according to the law ought to have descended to you. These serfs are not my subjects, but yours; I should not venture to dispose of their affairs without the consent of their lady. Now, when we ourselves possess once more our beloved Fatherland, shall the peasants by that happy change gain only this much, that they receive another lord? To be sure, they have hitherto been governed with kindness, but after my death God knows to whom I may leave them; I am a soldier, and we both are mortal; I am a man, and I fear my own caprices: I shall act with greater security if I renounce my own authority and give over the fate of the villagers into the protection of the law. Being free ourselves, let us make the villagers free likewise; let us grant them as their own the possession of the land on which they were born, which they have gained by bloody toil, and from which they nourish us all and make us all rich. But I must warn you that the grant of these lands will lessen our income; we must live in moderate circumstances. I from my youth am wonted to a frugal life; but you, Sophia, spring from a mighty line, and have passed your early years in the capital—will you consent to live in a village, far from the great world, like a country girl?"
In reply Zosia said modestly,—
"I am a woman, authority does not belong to me. You will be my husband; I am too young to give advice—whatever you arrange, I agree to with all my heart! If by freeing the villagers you become poorer, then, Thaddeus, you will be all the dearer to my heart. Of my family I know little, and to it I am quite indifferent; I remember only that I was poor and an orphan, and that I was taken in as a daughter by the Soplicas, that I was brought up in their house and married from it. Of the country I am not afraid: if I have lived in a great city, that was long ago; I have forgotten it, and have always loved the country. Believe me, that my hens and roosters have given me more amusement than all those St. Petersburgs, If at times I have longed for amusement and for society, that was from childishness; I know now that the city wearies me. I convinced myself last winter, after a short stay in Wilno, that I was born for a country life; in the midst of gaieties I longed once more for Soplicowo. And I am not afraid of work, for I am young and strong; I know how to walk about the place and wear a bunch of keys: you will see how quickly I shall learn how to manage the household!"
While Zosia was speaking these last words, Gerwazy came up to her, amazed and glum.
"I know it already," he said, "the Judge has already been speaking of this liberty! But I do not understand what that has to do with peasants! I am afraid that there may be something a trifle German in this! Why, liberty is not a peasant's affair, but a gentleman's! To be sure, we are all derived from Adam, but I have heard that the peasants proceed from Ham,223 the Jews from Japhet, and we gentry from Shem; hence we are lords over both, as the elder brothers. But now the parish priest gives us different teaching from the pulpit—he says that so it was under the old law; but that when once Christ our Lord, though he sprang from the blood of kings, was born among Jews in a peasant's stable, from that time on he has made equal all classes of men and brought in peace among them. Well, so be it, since it can't be otherwise! Especially if, as I hear, Your Excellency my Lady Sophia has agreed to everything; it is for you to give orders and for me to obey them: authority belongs to you alone. Only I warn you that we must not grant merely an empty liberty, in words alone, like that under the Muscovites, when the late Pan Karp freed his serfs and the Muscovite starved them to death with a triple tax.224 So it is my advice that according to the ancient custom we make the peasants nobles and proclaim that we bestow on them our own coats of arms. You, my lady, will bestow on some villages the Half-Goat; to others let Pan Soplica give his Star and Crescent.225 Then will even Rembajlo recognize the peasant as his equal, when he beholds him an honourable gentleman, with a coat of arms. The Diet will confirm the act.
"But, sir, do not make anxious your lady wife by saying that the giving up of the lands will make you both so extremely poor; God forbid that I should see the hands of a dignitary's daughter hardened with housewifely labour. There is a way of preventing this: in the castle I know of a certain chest in which lies the table service of the Horeszkos and with it various rings, necklaces, bracelets, rich plumes, caparisons, and marvellous swords—the Pantler's treasures, hidden from plunderers, in the ground; to Pani Sophia, as his heiress, they belong; I have guarded them in the castle like the eyes in my head, keeping them from the Muscovites, and from you, my Soplica friends. I have likewise a good-sized pouch of my own thalers, saved from my earnings, and likewise from the gifts of my masters; I had intended, when the castle should be returned to us, to devote some pennies to the repairing of the walls—to-day it turns out that they will be needed for the new style of farming. And so, Pan Soplica, I am moving to your abode; I shall live with my lady, on her bounty, and shall rock to sleep a third generation of Horeszkos; I will train my lady's child to use the penknife, if it is a son—and she will have a son, for wars are coming on, and in time of war sons are always born."
Hardly had Gerwazy spoken these last words, when Protazy approached with dignified steps; he bowed, and took from the bosom of his kontusz a huge panegyric, two and a half sheets long.226 It had been composed in rime by a young subaltern, who once had been a famous writer of odes in the capital; he had later donned a uniform, but, retaining even in the army his devotion to letters, he still continued to make verses. The Apparitor read aloud full three hundred of them; at last, when he came to the place:—
Thou whose fair eyes
Rouse in us painful joys and blissful sighs;
When on Bellona's ranks thy glance descends,
All spears are broken and each buckler bends:
To-day soft Hymen conquers cruel Mars;
Thy gentle hand the hissing serpents tears
From Discord's hydra front, emblem of dreadful wars—
Thaddeus and Sophia began to clap vigorously, as if in applause, but really because they did not wish to hear further. Now at the Judge's bidding the parish priest mounted the table and proclaimed Thaddeus's determination to the villagers.
Hardly had the peasants heard this news, when they leapt towards their young master and fell at the feet of their lady. "The health of our masters!" they shouted with tears, and Thaddeus shouted, "The health of our fellow citizens, free Poles, our equals!" "I propose the health of the common people!" said Dombrowski—the people shouted: "Long live the generals, vivat the army, vivat the people, vivat all classes!" With a thousand voices, one health thundered after another.
Buchmann alone did not deign to share in the general joy; he praised the project, but would have preferred to change it slightly, and first of all to appoint a legal commission, which should—but the shortness of the time prevented them from adopting Buchmann's advice, for in the yard of the castle the officers and ladies, the privates and the village girls were already standing in couples: "the polonaise!" they all shouted with one breath. The officers were bringing up the army musicians, but the Judge whispered in the General's ear:—
"Pray give orders for the band to restrain itself for a while longer. You know that to-day sees the betrothal of my nephew, and it is the ancient custom of our family to celebrate betrothals and marriages with village music. Look, there stand the player of the dulcimer, the fiddler, and the bagpiper, all worthy musicians—already the fiddler is making mouths, and the bagpiper is bowing and begging with his eyes that I will have them begin—the poor fellows will weep. The common folk will not know how to skip to other music; so let them begin and let the folk have their fun; afterwards we will listen to your excellent band."
He made a sign. The fiddler tucked up the sleeve of his coat, squeezed tightly the finger board, rested his chin on the tailpiece, and sent his bow over the fiddle like a race horse. At this signal, the bagpipers, who were standing close by, blew into their sacks and filled their cheeks with breath, making a quick motion with their arms as though flapping their wings; you might have thought that the pair would fly off on the breeze, like the chubby children of Boreas. But there was no dulcimer.
There were many players of the dulcimer, but none of them dared to perform in Jankiel's presence. (Jankiel had been spending the whole winter no one knows where; now he had suddenly made his appearance along with the General Staff.) Everybody knew that no one could compare with him in playing that instrument, either in skill, taste, or talent. They begged him to play and offered him the dulcimer; the Jew refused, saying that his hands had grown stiff, that he was out of practice, that he did not dare to, that he was embarrassed by the men of high station; with many a bow he was stealing away. When Zosia saw this, she ran up, and with one white hand proffered him the hammers with which the master was wont to sound the strings; with the other hand she stroked the old man's grey beard, and said with a curtsy:—
"Jankiel, be so good; you see this is my betrothal; play for me, Jankiel. Haven't you often promised to play at my wedding?"
Jankiel, who was beyond measure fond of Zosia, nodded his beard as a sign that he did not refuse. So they led him into the centre of the company and put his instrument on his knees; he gazed on it with delight and pride, like a veteran called back to active service, when his grandsons take down from the wall his heavy sword: the old man laughs, though it is long since he has had a sword in his hand, for he feels that his hand will not yet betray the weapon.
Meanwhile two of his pupils were kneeling by the dulcimer, tuning the strings afresh and twanging them as a test of their work. Jankiel with half-closed eyes sat silent and held the hammers motionless in his fingers.
He lowered them, at first beating a triumphal measure; then he smote the strings more briskly, as with a torrent of rain: all were amazed, but that was only a test, for he suddenly broke off and lifted both hammers aloft.
He played anew; now the strings trembled with motions as light as though the wing of a fly were sounding on the string, giving forth a gentle, hardly audible buzzing. The master fixed his gaze on the sky, awaiting inspiration; he looked down and surveyed the instrument with a haughty eye, he raised his hands and lowered them together, and smote with both hammers at once; the auditors were amazed.—
All at once from many strings there burst forth a sound as though a whole janissaries' band had become vocal with bells and cymbals and drums.227 The Polonaise of the Third of May228 thundered forth! The rippling notes breathed of joy, they poured joy into one's ears; the girls wanted to dance and the boys could not stand still—but the notes carried the thoughts of the old men back into the past, to those happy years when the Senate and the House of Deputies, after that great day of the Third of May, celebrated in the assembly hall the reconciliation of King and Nation; when they danced and sang, "Vivat our beloved King, vivat the Diet, vivat the people, vivat all classes!"
The master kept quickening the time and playing with greater power, but suddenly he struck a false chord like the hiss of a snake, like the grating of iron on glass—it sent a shudder through every one, and mingled with the general gaiety an ill-omened foreboding. Disturbed and alarmed, the hearers wondered whether the instrument might not be out of tune, or the musician be making a blunder. Such a master had not blundered! He purposely kept touching that traitorous string and breaking up the melody, striking louder and louder that angry chord, confederated against the harmony of the tones; at last the Warden understood the master, covered his face in his hands, and cried, "I know, I know those notes; that is Targowica!" And suddenly the ill-omened string broke with a hiss; the musician rushed to the treble notes, broke up and confused the measure, abandoned the treble notes, and hurried his hammers to the bass strings.
One could hear louder and louder a thousand noises, measured marching, war, an attack, a storm; one could hear the reports of guns, the groans of children, the weeping of mothers. So finely did the wonderful master render the horrors of a storm that the village girls trembled, calling to mind with tears of grief the Massacre of Praga,229 which they knew from song and story; they were glad when finally the master thundered with all the strings at once, and choked the outcries as though he had crushed them into the earth.
Hardly did the hearers have time to recover from their amazement, when once more the music changed: at first there were once more light and gentle hummings; a few thin strings complained together, like flies striving to free themselves from the spider's web. But more and more strings joined them; now the scattered tones were blended and legions of chords were united; now they advanced measuredly with harmonious notes, forming the mourrlful melody of that famous song of the wandering soldier who travels through woods and through forests, ofttimes fainting with woe and with hunger: at last he falls at the feet of his faithful steed, and the steed with his foot digs a grave for him. A poor old song, yet very dear to the Polish troops! The soldiers recognized it, and the privates crowded about the master; they hearkened, and they remembered that dreadful season when over the grave of their country they had sung this song and departed for the ends of the earth; they called to mind their long years of wandering, over lands and seas, over frosts and burning sands, amid foreign peoples, where often in camp they had been cheered and heartened by this folk song. So thinking, they sadly bowed their heads!
But they raised them straightway, for the master was playing stronger and higher notes; he changed his measure, and proclaimed something quite different from what had preceded. Once more he looked down and measured the strings with his eye; he joined his hands and smote with the two hammers in unison: the blow was so artistic, so powerful, that the strings rang like brazen trumpets, and from the trumpets a well-known song floated to the heavens, a triumphal march, "Poland has not yet perished; march, Dombrowski, to Poland!"—And all clapped their hands, and all shouted in chorus, "March, Dombrowski!"
The musician seemed amazed at his own song; he dropped the hammers from his hands and raised his arms aloft; his fox-skin cap dropped from his head to his shoulders; his uplifted beard waved majestically; his cheeks glowed with a strange flush; in his glance, full of spirit, shone the fire of youth. At last, when the old man turned his eyes on Dombrowski, he covered them with his hands, and from under his hands gushed a stream of tears.
"General," said he, "long has our Lithuania awaited thee—long, even as we Jews have awaited the Messiah; of thee in olden times minstrels prophesied among the folk; thy coming was heralded by a marvel in the sky. Live and wage war, O thou our—"
As he spoke, he sobbed; the honest Jew loved his country like a Pole! Dombrowski extended his hand to him and thanked him; Jankiel, doffing his cap, kissed the leader's hand.
It was time to begin the polanaise.—The Chamberlain stepped forward, and, lightly throwing back the flowing sleeves of his kontusz and twirling his mustache, he offered his arm to Zosia; with a polite bow he invited her to lead off in the first couple. Behind the Chamberlain a long line of couples formed; the signal was given and the dance began—he was its leader.
Over the greensward glittered his crimson boots, the light gleamed from his sabre and his rich girdle shone; he advanced slowly, with seeming carelessness—yet in every step and every motion one could read the feelings and the thoughts of the dancer. He stopped, as if he wished to question his lady; he bent his head down towards her as if wishing to whisper in her ear; the lady averted her head, was bashful, would not listen; he doffed his white cap and bowed humbly; the lady deigned to gaze upon him, but still kept a stubborn silence; he slackened his pace, followed her glances with his eyes, and at last he laughed.—Happy in her reply, he advanced more quickly, gazing down at his rivals; now he hung his white cap with its heron's plumes over his brow, now he shook it above his brow; at last he cocked it over his ear and twirled his mustache. He strode on; all felt envious of him and pressed upon him in pursuit; he would have been glad to steal away from the throng with his lady; at times he stood still, courteously raised his hand, and humbly begged them to pass by; sometimes he meditated withdrawing adroitly to one side; he often changed his course, and would have been glad to elude his comrades, but they importunately followed him with swift steps, and encircled him from all sides in the evolutions of the dance: so he grew angry, and laid his right hand on his sword hilt, as if to say: "I care not for you; woe to those who are jealous of me!" He turned about with a haughty brow and with a challenge in his eye, and made straight for the throng; the throng of dancers did not dare withstand him, but retired from his path—and, changing their formation, they started again in pursuit of him.—
Cries rang out on all sides: "Ah, perhaps he is the last—watch, watch, you young men—perhaps he is the last who can lead the polonaise in such fashion!" And the couples followed one another merrily and uproariously; the circle would disperse and then contract once more! As when an immense serpent twines into a thousand folds, so there was seen a perpetual change amid the gay, parti-coloured garments of the ladies, the gentlemen, and the soldiers, like glittering scales gilded by the beams of the western sun and relieved against the dark pillows of turf. Brisk was the dance and loud the music, the applause, and the drinking of healths.
Corporal Buzzard Dobrzynski alone neither listened to the band, nor danced, nor made him merry; with his hands behind him he stood glum and sullen and called to mind his old-time wooing of Zosia; how he had loved to bring her flowers, to plait little baskets, to gather birds' nests, to make little earrings. Ungrateful girl! Though he had wasted upon her so many lovely gifts, though she had fled from him, though his father had forbidden him, yet how many times he had sat on the wall just to see her through the window, and had stolen into the hemp in order to watch how she tended her little flower garden, picked cucumbers, or fed the roosters! Ungrateful girl! He drooped his head; finally he whistled a mazurka; then he jammed his casque down over his ears and went to the camp, where the sentinels were standing by the cannon: there, to distract his mind, he began a game of cribbage with the private soldiers, and sweetened his sorrow with the cup. Such was the constancy of Dobrzynski to Zosia.
Zosia was dancing merrily: but, though she was in the first couple, from a distance she could hardly be seen; on the broad surface of the turf-spread court, in her green gown and decked with garlands and with flowery wreaths, she circled amid the grasses and flowers unseen in her flight, guiding the dance as an angel guides the motion of the stars by night: you could guess where she was, for towards her all eyes were turned and all arms stretched out; towards her the tumult pressed. In vain did the Chamberlain strive to remain by her side; his envious rivals had already pressed him out of the first couple: nor did the happy Dombrowski long enjoy his triumph; he yielded her to a second, but a third was already hastening up; and he, too, at once pressed aside, departed without hope. At last Zosia, by this time wearied, met Thaddeus as she passed down the line; and, fearing further change, and wishing to remain with him, she brought the dance to an end. She went to the table to pour wine for the guests.
The sun was already setting, the evening was warm and quiet; the circle of the heavens, here and there strewn with little clouds, was azure on high, but rosy in the west; the little clouds foretold fine weather, being light and shining—here like flocks of sheep sleeping on the greensward, there of somewhat smaller size, like coveys of teal. In the west was a cloud in shape like the drapery curtains of a couch, transparent and with many folds, pearly at the summit, gilded on the margin, purple in the centre; it still burned and glowed with the western gleams; at last it slowly turned yellow, then pale and grey; the sun dropped its head, drew the cloud about it, and sighing a single time with a warm breath—it fell asleep.230
But the gentlefolk continued to drink and to propose the healths of Napoleon, the Generals, Thaddeus, and Zosia; finally of all three betrothed pairs in turn, of all the guests present with them, of all those that had been invited, of all the friends that any one alive could remember, and of all the dead whose memory had remained holy.
And I was there among the guests, and there drank wine and mead;
And what I saw and heard I wrote, that all of you might read.231