Pan Tadeusz/Chapter 4
DIPLOMACY AND THE CHASE
Ye comrades of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, trees of Bialowieza, Switez, Ponary, and Kuszelewo! whose shade once fell upon the crowned heads of the dread Witenes and the great Mindowe, and of Giedymin, when on the height of Ponary, by the huntsmen's fire, he lay on a bear skin, listening to the song of the wise Lizdejko; and, lulled by the sight of the Wilia and the murmur of the Wilejko, he dreamed of the iron wolf;62 and awakened, by the clear command of the gods, he built the city of Wilno, which sits among the forests as a wolf amid bison, wild boars, and bears. From this city of Wilno, as from the she-wolf of Rome, went forth Kiejstut and Olgierd and his sons,63 as mighty hunters as they were famous knights, in pursuit now of their enemies and now of wild beasts. A hunter's dream disclosed to us the secrets of the future, that Lithuania ever needs iron and wooded lands.
Ye forests! the last to come hunting among you was the last king who wore the cap of Witold,64 the last fortunate warrior of the Jagiellos, and the last huntsman among the rulers of Lithuania. Trees of my Fatherland! if Heaven grants that I return to behold you, old friends, shall I find you still? Do ye still live? Ye, among whom I once crept as a child—does great Baublis65 still live, in whose bulk, hollowed by ages, as in a goodly house, twelve could sup at table? Does the grove of Mendog66 still bloom by the village church? And there in the Ukraine, does there still rise on the banks of the Ros, before the mansion of the Holowinskis, that linden tree so far-spreading that beneath its shade a hundred youths and a hundred maidens were wont to join as partners in the dance?
Monuments of our fathers! how many of you each year are destroyed by the axes of the merchants, or of the Muscovite government! These vandals leave no refuge either for the forest warblers or for the bards, to whom your shade was as dear as to the birds. Yet the linden of Czarnolas, responsive to the voice of Jan Kochanowski, inspired in him so many rimes!67 Yet that prattling oak still sings of so many marvels to the Cossack bard!68
How much do I owe to you, trees of my Homeland! A wretched huntsman, fleeing from the mockery of my comrades, in exchange for the game that I missed how many fancies did I capture beneath your calm, when in the wild thicket, forgetful of the chase, I sat me down amid a clump of trees! Around me here the greybearded moss showed silver, streaked with the blue of dark, crushed berries; there heathery hillocks shone red, decked with cowberries as with rosaries of coral.—All about was darkness: over me the branches hung like low, thick, green clouds; somewhere above the motionless vault the wind played with a wailing, roaring, howling, crashing thunder; a strange, deafening uproar! It seemed to me that there above my head rolled a hanging sea.
Below, the crumbling remains of cities meet the eye. Here an overthrown oak protrudes from the ground, like an immense ruin; on it seem to rest fragments of walls and columns; on this side are branching stumps, on that half-rotted beams, enclosed with a hedge of grass. Within the barricade it is terrible to look: there dwell the lords of the forest, wild boars, bears, and wolves; at the gate lie the half-gnawed bones of some unwary guests. Sometimes there rise up through the green of the grass, like two jets of water, a pair of stag's antlers; and a beast flits between the trees like a yellow streak, as when a sunbeam falls between the forest trees and dies.
And again there is quiet below. A woodpecker on a fir tree raps lightly and flies farther on and vanishes; it has hidden, but does not cease to tap with its beak, like a child when it has hidden and wishes to be sought for. Nearer sits a squirrel, holding a nut in its paws and gnawing it; its tail hangs over its eyes like the plume over a cuirassier's helmet: even though thus protected, it keeps glancing about; perceiving the guest, this dancer of the woods skips from tree to tree and flashes like lightning; finally it slips into an invisible opening of a stump, like a Dryad returning to her native tree. Again all is quiet.
Now a branch shakes from the touch of some one's hand, and between the parted clusters of the service berries shines a face more fair than they. It is a maiden gathering berries or nuts; in a basket of simple bark she offers you freshly gathered cowberries, rosy as her lips. By her side walks a youth who bends down the branches of the hazel tree; the girl catches the nuts as they flash by her.
Now they have heard the peal of the horns and the baying of the hounds; they guess that a hunt is drawing near them; and between the dense mass of boughs, full of alarm, they vanish suddenly from the eye, like deities of the forest.
In Soplicowo there was a great commotion; but neither the barking of the dogs, nor the neighing of the horses and the creaking of the carts, nor the blare of the horns that gave the signal for the hunt could stir Thaddeus from his bed; falling fully dressed on his couch, he had slept like a marmot in its burrow. None of the young men thought of looking for him in the yard; every one was occupied with his own affairs and was hurrying to his appointed place; they entirely forgot their sleeping comrade.
He was snoring. Through the heart-shaped opening that was cut in the shutter the sun poured into the darkened room like a fiery column, straight on the brow of the sleeping lad. He wanted to doze longer and twisted about, trying to avoid the light; suddenly he heard a knocking and awoke; cheerful was his awakening. He felt blithe as a bird and breathed freely and lightly; he felt himself happy and smiled to himself. Thinking of all that had happened to him the day before, he blushed and sighed, and his heart beat fast.
He looked at the window. Marvellous to say, in the sunlit aperture, within that heart, there shone two bright eyes, opened wide, as is wont to be the case when one gazes from daylight into darkness; he saw also a little hand, raised like a fan on the side towards the sun, to shield the gaze; the tiny fingers, turned towards the rosy light, reddened clear through, as if made of rubies; he beheld curious lips, slightly parted, and little teeth that shone like pearls among corals; and the face, though it was protected from the sun by a rosy palm, itself glowed all over like the rose.
Thaddeus was sleeping beneath the window; himself hidden in the shade, lying on his back, he wondered at the marvellous apparition, which was directly above him, almost touching his face. He did not know whether he was awake, or whether he was imagining one of those dear, bright childish faces that we remember to have seen in the dreams of our innocent years. The little face bent down: he beheld, trembling with fear and joy, alas! he beheld most clearly—he recalled and recognised now that short, bright golden hair done up in tiny curl papers white as snow, like silvery pods, which in the gleam of the sun shone like a crown on the image of a saint.
He started up, and the vision straightway vanished, frightened by the noise; he waited, but it did not return! He only heard again a thrice-repeated knocking and the words: "Get up, sir; it is time for hunting, you have overslept." He jumped from his couch, and with both hands pushed back the shutters, so that their hinges rattled, and flying open they knocked against the wall on either side. He rushed out and looked around, amazed and confused, but he saw nothing, nor did he perceive traces of any one. Not far from the window was the garden fence; on it the hop leaves and the flowery garlands were trembling; had some light hands touched them or had the wind stirred them? Thaddeus gazed long on them, but did not dare enter the enclosure; he only leaned on the fence, raised his eyes, and, with his finger pressed on his lips, bade himself be silent, in order not to break the stillness by a hasty word. Then he rapped his forehead, as though he were tapping for some ancient memories that had been lulled to sleep within him; finally, gnawing his fingers, he drew blood, and shouted at the top of his voice: "It serves me right, it does."
In the yard, where a few moments before there had been so many cries, now everything was desolate and silent as in a graveyard; all had gone afield. Thaddeus pricked up his ears, and put his hands to them like trumpets; he listened till the wind that blew from the forest brought to him the sound of horns and the shouts of the hunting throng.
Thaddeus's horse was waiting saddled in the stable. So, musket in hand, he vaulted upon it, and like a madman galloped towards the inns that stood near the forest chapel, where the beaters were to have gathered at early dawn.
The two taverns bent forward from either side of the road, threatening each other with their windows like enemies. The old one rightfully belonged to the owner of the castle; the new one Judge Soplica had built to spite the castle. In the former, as in his own inheritance, Gerwazy ruled supreme; in the latter Protazy occupied the highest place at the table.
The new tavern was not peculiar in its appearance. The old one was built according to an ancient model, which was invented by Tyrian carpenters, and later spread abroad over the world by the Jews; a style of architecture completely unknown to foreign builders: we inherit it from the Jews.
The tavern was in front like an ark, behind like a temple; the ark was Noah's genuine oblong chest, known to-day under the simple name of stable; in it there were various beasts, horses, cows, oxen, bearded goats; and above flocks of birds; and a pair each of various sorts of reptiles—and likewise insects. The rear portion, formed like a marvellous temple, reminded one by its appearance of that edifice of Solomon that Hiram's carpenters, the first skilled in the art of building, erected on Zion. The Jews imitate it to this day in their schools, and the design of the schools may be traced in their taverns and stables. The roof of lath and straw was peaked, turned-up, and crooked as a Jew's torn cap. From the gable protruded the edges of a balcony, supported on a row of close-set wooden columns; the columns, which were a great architectural marvel, were solid, though half decayed, and were put up crooked, as in the tower of Pisa; they did not conform to Greek models, for they lacked bases and capitals. On the columns rested semicircular arches, also of wood, in imitation of Gothic art. Above were artistic ornaments, crooked as the arms of Sabbath candlesticks,69 executed not with the graver or chisel, but with skilful blows of the carpenter's hatchet; at their ends hung balls, somewhat resembling the buttons that the Jews hang on their foreheads when they pray, and which, in their own, tongue, they call cyces. In a word, from a distance the tottering, crooked tavern was like a Jew, when he nods his head in prayer; the roof is his cap, the disordered thatch his beard, the smoky, dirty walls his black frock, and in front the carving juts out like the cyces on his brow.
In the centre of the tavern was a partition like that in a Jewish school; one portion, divided into long and narrow rooms, was reserved exclusively for ladies and gentlemen who were travelling; the other formed one immense hall. Along each wall stretched a many-footed narrow, wooden table; by it were benches, which, though lower, were as like the table as children are like their father. On these benches around the room sat peasants, both men and women, and likewise some of the minor gentry, all in rows; only the Steward sat by himself. After early Mass they had come from the chapel to Jankiel's, since it was Sunday, to have a drink and to amuse themselves. By each a cup of greyish brandy was already frothing, the hostess was running about with the bottle, serving every one. In the centre of the room stood the host, Jankiel, in a long gown that reached to the floor, and was fastened with silver clasps; one hand he had tucked into his black silk girdle, with the other he stroked in dignified fashion his grey beard. Casting his eye about, he issued orders, greeted the guests who came in, went up to those that were seated, and started conversation, reconciled persons quarrelling, but served no one—he only walked to and fro. The Jew was old, and famed everywhere for his probity; for many years he had been keeping the tavern, and no one either of the peasants or of the gentry had ever made complaint against him to his landlord. Of what should they complain? He had good drinks to choose from; he kept his accounts strictly, but without any knavery; he did not forbid merriment, but would not endure drunkenness. He was a great lover of entertainments; at his tavern marriages and christenings were celebrated; every Sunday he had musicians come from the village, including a bass viol and bagpipes.
He was familiar with music and was himself famous for his musical talent; with the dulcimer, his national instrument, he had once wandered from estate to estate and amazed his hearers by his playing and his songs, for he sang well and with a trained voice. Though a Jew, he had a fairly good Polish pronunciation, and was particularly fond of the national songs, of which he had brought back a multitude from each trip over the Niemen, kolomyjkas70 from Halicz and mazurkas from Warsaw. A report, I do not know how well founded, was current throughout the district, that he was the first to bring from abroad and make popular in that time and place the song which is to-day famous all over the world, and which was first played in the Ausonian land to Italians by the trumpets of the Polish legions.71 The talent of song pays well in Lithuania; it gains people's affection and makes one famous and rich. Jankiel had made a fortune; sated with gain and glory, he had hung his nine-stringed dulcimer upon the wall, and settling down with his children in the tavern he had taken up liquor-selling. Besides this he was the under-rabbi in the neighbouring town, and always a welcome guest in every quarter, and a household counsellor: he had a good knowledge of the grain trade on the river barges;72 such knowledge is needful in a village. He had also the reputation of being a patriotic Pole.73
He was the first to bring to an end the quarrels between the two taverns, which had often led even to bloodshed, by leasing them both. He was equally respected by the old partisans of the Horeszkos and by the servants of Judge Soplica. He alone knew how to keep an ascendancy over the terrible Warden of the Horeszkos and the quarrelsome Apparitor; in Jankiel's presence both Gerwazy terrible of hand and Protazy terrible of tongue stifled their ancient wrongs.
Gerwazy was not there; he had gone to join the beaters, not wishing that the Count, young and inexperienced, should undertake alone so important and difficult an expedition. So he had gone with him for counsel, and likewise for defence.
To-day Gerwazy's place, the farthest from the threshold, between two benches, in the very corner of the tavern (called pokucie74), was occupied by the Monk, Father Robak, the alms-gatherer. Jankiel had seated him there; he evidently highly respected the Bernardine, for whenever he noticed that his glass was empty he immediately ran up and told them to pour out for him July mead.75 They said that the Bernardine and he had been acquainted when young, somewhere off in foreign lands. Robak often came by night to the tavern, and consulted secretly with the Jew about important matters; they said that the Monk was smuggling goods, but this was a slander unworthy of belief.
Leaning on the table, Robak was discoursing in a low voice; a throng of gentry surrounded him and pricked up their ears, and bent down their noses to the Monk's snuffbox. Each took a pinch, and the gentlemen sneezed like mortars.
"Reverendissime," said Skoluba with a sneeze, "that is fine tobacco, it goes way up to your topknot. Never since I have worn a nose"—here he stroked his long nose—"have I met its like"—here he sneezed a second time. "It is real Bernardine, doubtless made in Kowno, a city famous throughout the world for tobacco and mead. I was there in—"
"To the health of you all, my noble gentlemen!"
Robak interrupted him. "As for the tobacco—hm—it comes from farther off than my friend Skoluba thinks; it comes from Jasna Gora, the Bright Mountain; the Paulist Brethren prepare such tobacco in the city of Czenstochowa,76 where stands the image, famed for so many miracles, of Our Lady the Virgin, Queen of the Crown of Poland: she is likewise still called Duchess of Lithuania! She still watches over her royal crown, but in the Duchy of Lithuania the schism77 is now established!"
"From Czenstochowa?" said Wilbik. "I confessed myself there when I went on a pilgrimage thirty years ago. Is it true that the French are now visiting the city, and that they are going to tear down the church and seize the treasury—for this is all printed in the Lithuanian Courier?"
"No, it is not true," said the Bernardine. "His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon is a most exemplary Catholic; the Pope himself anointed him, and they live in harmony, and spread the faith among the French people, which has become a trifle corrupted. To be sure they have contributed much silver from Czenstochowa to the national treasury, for the Fatherland, for Poland, as the Lord God himself bids; his altars are always the treasury of the Fatherland. Why, in the Duchy of Warsaw we have a Polish army of a hundred thousand, perhaps soon there will be more. And who will pay that army? Will it be you Lithuanians? You are now giving your pennies only for the Muscovite coffers."
"The devil we are!" cried Wilbik; "they take them from us by force."
"O, my dear sir," a peasant spoke up humbly, bowing to the Monk and scratching his head, "for the gentry it is only half bad, but they skin us like linden bark."
"You stupid son of Ham!"78 cried Skoluba, "it is easier for you; you peasants are as used to skinning as eels; but for us men of birth, us gentlemen accustomed to golden liberty! Ah, brothers! Why, in old times a gentleman on his garden patch—"
"Yes, yes," they all cried, "was a wojewoda's match."79
"To-day they even deny our gentle birth; they bid us hunt up papers and prove it by documents."
"That's nothing for such as you!" shouted Juraha. "Your precious ancestors were peasants who obtained nobility, but I am of princes' blood! To ask me for a patent, showing when I became a nobleman! Only God remembers that! Let the Muscovite go to the forest and ask the oak grove who gave it a patent to grow above all the shrubs!"
"Prince!" said Zagiel. "Go tell that to some one else! You will find no end of princes' coronets in this district."
"You have a cross in your coat of arms," shouted Podhajski; "that is a covert allusion to the fact that a baptised Jew was a member of your line."
"That is false!" interrupted Birbarz; "now I spring from the blood of Tatar counts, and yet my coat bears crosses above a ship."
"The white rose of five petals," cried Mickiewicz, "with a cap in a golden field: it is a princely coat; Stryjkowski writes frequently of it."80
After this a mighty hubbub arose all over the room. The Bernardine had recourse to his snuffbox; he offered a pinch to each of the orators in turn, and the wrangling immediately subsided: each accepted for courtesy's sake, and sneezed several times. The Bernardine, taking advantage of the intermission, continued:—
"Ah! this tobacco has made great men sneeze! Will you believe me that four times General Dombrowski has taken a pinch from this snuffbox?"
"Dombrowski!" they shouted.
"Yes, yes, he, the general. I was in the camp when he was recapturing Dantzic from the Germans.81 He had something to write; and, fearing that he might go to sleep, he took a pinch, sneezed, and twice patted me on the back. "Father Robak," he said, "Father Bernardine, perhaps we shall see each other in Lithuania before the year is over. Tell the Lithuanians to receive me with Czenstochowa tobacco; I take none but that.""
The Monk's speech aroused such amazement and such joy that the whole noisy assembly was silent for a moment; then they repeated under their breath the words, "Tobacco from Poland? Czenstochowa? Dombrowski? from the Italian land?" until finally all at once, as if thought had fused with thought and word with word, all cried with one voice, as if a signal had been given: "Dombrowski!" All shouted together, all embraced one another; the peasant and the Tatar count, the prince's hat and the cross, the white rose, the griffin, and the ship; they forgot everything, even the Bernardine; they only sang and shouted: "Brandy, mead, wine!"
Father Robak listened to the song for a long time; finally he wanted to cut it short. So he took in both hands his snuffbox, broke up the melody with a sneeze; and, before they got together again, he hastened to speak thus:—
"You praise my tobacco, my good friends; now see what is going on inside the snuffbox."
Here, wiping with his handkerchief the soiled base of the box, he showed them a little painted army, like a swarm of flies: in the middle sat a man on a charger, the size of a beetle, evidently the leader of the troop; he had made his horse rear, as though he wanted to leap into the skies; one hand he held on the bridle, the other up to his nose.
"Gaze," said Robak, "at that threatening form, and guess whose it is."
All looked with curiosity.
"That is a great man, an emperor, but not of the Muscovites; their tsars have never used tobacco."
"A great man," cried Cydzik, "and in a long grey coat? I thought that great men wore gold, for among the Muscovites any sort of a general, sir, fairly shines with gold, like a pike in saffron."
"Bah!" interrupted Rymsza; "why, in my youth I saw Kosciuszko, the chief of our nation: he was a great man, but he wore a Cracow peasant's coat, that is to say, a czamara."
"Much he wore a czamara!" retorted Wilbik. "They used to call it a taratatka."82
"But the taratatka has fringe," shouted Mickiewicz, "and the other is entirely plain."
Thereupon there arose disputes over the various forms of the taratatka and the czamara.
The ingenious Robak, seeing that the conversation was thus becoming scattered, undertook again to gather it to a focus—to his snuffbox: he treated them, they sneezed and wished one another good health; he continued his speech:—
"When the Emperor Napoleon in an engagement takes snuff time after time, it is a sure sign that he is winning the battle. For example, at Austerlitz: the French just stood beside their cannon, and on them charged a host of Muscovites. The Emperor gazed and held his peace; whenever the French shot, the Muscovites were simply mowed down by regiments like grass. Regiment after regiment galloped on and fell from the saddle; whenever a regiment fell, the Emperor took a pinch of snuff, until finally Alexander with his little brother Constantine and the German Emperor Francis fled from the field. So the Emperor, seeing that the fight was over, gazed at them, laughed, and dusted his fingers. And now if any of you gentlemen who are present here ever serves in the army of the Emperor, let him remember this."
"Ah! my dear Monk!" cried Skoluba, "when will that be? Why, on every holiday set down in the calendar they prophesy to us that the French are coming, A man looks and looks until his eyes are weary, but the Muscovite keeps on holding us by the neck as he always has. I fear that before the sun rises the dew will ruin our eyes."
"Sir, it is womanish to complain," said the Bernardine, "and a Jewish trick to wait with folded hands until some one rides up to the tavern and knocks on the door. With Napoleon it is not so hard to beat the Muscovites; he has already three times thrashed the hide of the Suabians, he has trodden down the nasty Prussians, and has cast back the English straight across the sea: surely he will be equal to the Muscovites. But, my dear sir, do you know what will be the result? The gentry of Lithuania will mount their steeds and seize their sabres, but not until there is no longer any enemy with whom to fight. Napoleon, after crushing everybody alone, will finally say: ‘I can get along without you: who are you?’ So it is not enough to await a guest, not enough even to invite him in; one needs to gather the servants and set up the tables; and before the banquet one must clean the house of dirt; clean the house, I repeat; clean the house, my boys!"
A silence followed, and then voices in the throng:—
"How clean our house? What do you mean by that? We will do everything for you, we are ready for anything; only, my dear Father, pray explain yourself more clearly."
The Monk glanced out of the window, interrupting the conversation; he noticed something peculiar, and put his head out of the window. In a moment he said, rising:—
"To-day we have no time, later we will talk together more at length. To-morrow I shall be in the district town on business, and on the way I will call on you gentlemen to gather alms."
"Then call at Niehrymow to spend the night," said the Steward; "the Ensign will be glad to see you, sir. An old Lithuanian proverb says: ‘As lucky a man as an alms-gatherer in Niehrymow.’"
"And be good enough to visit us," said Zubkowski. "You will get a half-piece of linen, a firkin of butter, a sheep or a cow. Remember these words, sir: ‘A man is lucky if he strikes it as rich as a monk in Zubkow.’"
"And on us," said Skoluba; "and on us," added Terajewicz; "no Bernardine ever departed hungry from Pucewicze."
Thus all the gentry said good-bye to the Monk with prayers and promises; he was already the other side of the door.
Through the window he had caught sight of Thaddeus flying along the highway, at full gallop, without his hat, with head bent forward, and with a pale, gloomy face, continually whipping and spurring on his horse. This sight greatly disturbed the Bernardine; so he hastened with quick steps after the young man, towards the great forest, which, as far as the eye could reach, showed black along the entire horizon.
Who has explored the deep abysses of the Lithuanian forests up to the very centre, the kernel of the thicket? A fisherman is scarcely acquainted with the bottom of the sea close to the shore; a huntsman skirts around the bed of the Lithuanian forests; he knows them barely on the surface, their form and face, but the inner secrets of their heart are a mystery to him; only rumour or fable knows what goes on within them. For, when you have passed the woods and the dense, tangled thickets, in the depths you come upon a great rampart of stumps, logs, and roots, defended by a quagmire, a thousand streams, and a net of overgrown weeds and ant-hills, nests of wasps and hornets, and coils of serpents. If by some superhuman valour you surmount even these barriers, farther on you will meet with still greater danger. At each step there lie in wait for you, like the dens of wolves, little lakes, half overgrown with grass, so deep that men cannot find their bottom; in them it is very probable that devils dwell. The water of these wells is iridescent, spotted with a bloody rust, and from within continually rises a steam that breathes forth a nasty odour, from which the trees around lose their bark and leaves; bald, dwarfed, wormlike, and sick, hanging their branches knotted together with moss, and with humped trunks bearded with filthy fungi, they sit around the water, like a group of witches warming themselves around a kettle in which they are boiling a corpse.
Beyond these pools it is vain to try to penetrate even with the eye, to say nothing of one's steps, for there all is covered with a misty cloud that rises incessantly from quivering morasses. But finally behind this mist (so runs the common rumour) extends a very fair and fertile region, the main capital of the kingdom of beasts and plants. In it are gathered the seeds of all trees and herbs, from which their varieties spread abroad throughout the world; in it, as in Noah's ark, of all the kinds of beasts there is preserved at least one pair for breeding. In the very centre, we are told, the ancient buffalo and the bison and the bear, the emperors of the forest, hold their court. Around them, on trees, nest the swift lynx and the greedy wolverene, as watchful ministers; but farther on, as subordinate, noble vassals, dwell wild boars, wolves, and horned elks. Above their heads are the falcons and wild eagles, who live from the lords' tables, as court parasites. These chief and patriarchal pairs of beasts, hidden in the kernel of the forest, invisible to the world, send their children beyond the confines of the wood as colonists, but themselves in their capital enjoy repose; they never perish by cut or by shot, but when old die by a natural death. They have likewise their graveyard, where, when near to death, the birds lay their feathers and the quadrupeds their fur. The bear, when with his blunted teeth he cannot chew his food; the decrepit stag, when he can scarcely move his legs; the venerable hare, when his blood already thickens in his veins; the raven, when he grows grey, and the falcon, when he grows blind; the eagle, when his old beak is bent into such a bow that it is shut for ever and provides no nourishment for his throat;83 all go to the graveyard. Even a lesser beast, when wounded or sick, runs to die in the land of its fathers. Hence in the accessible places, to which man resorts, there are never found the bones of dead animals.84 It is said that there in the capital the beasts lead a well-ordered life, for they govern themselves; not yet corrupted by human civilisation, they know no rights of property, which embroil our world; they know neither duels nor the art of war. As their fathers lived in paradise, so their descendants live to-day, wild and tame alike, in love and harmony; never does one bite or butt another. Even if a man should enter there, though unarmed, he would pass in peace through the midst of the beasts; they would gaze on him with the same look of amazement with which on that last, sixth day of creation their first fathers, who dwelt in the Garden of Eden, gazed upon Adam, before they quarrelled with him. Happily no man wanders into this enclosure, for Toil and Terror and Death forbid him access.
Only sometimes hounds, furious in pursuit, entering incautiously among these mossy swamps and pits, overwhelmed by the sight of the horrors within them, flee away, whining, with looks of terror; and long after, though petted by their master's hand, they still tremble at his feet, possessed by fright. These ancient hidden places of the forests, unknown to men, are called in hunter's language jungles.
Stupid bear! If thou hadst abode in the jungle, never would the Seneschal have learned of thee; but, whether the fragrance of the honeycomb lured thee, or thou feltest too great a longing for ripe oats, thou camest out to the edge of the forest, where the trees were less dense, and there at once the forester detected thy presence, and at once sent forth beaters, clever spies, to learn where thou wast feeding and where thou hadst thy lair by night. Now the Seneschal with his beaters, extending his lines between thee and the jungle, cuts off thy retreat.
Thaddeus learned that no short time had already passed since the hounds had entered into the abyss of the forest.
All is quiet—in vain the hunters strain their ears; in vain, as to the most curious discourse, each hearkens to the silence, and waits long in his position without moving; only the music of the forest plays to them from afar. The dogs dive through the forest as loons beneath the sea; but the sportsmen, turning their double-barrelled muskets towards the wood, gaze on the Seneschal. He kneels, and questions the earth with his ear. As in the face of a physician the eyes of friends read the sentence of life or death for one who is dear to them, so the sportsmen, confident in the Seneschal's skill and training, fix upon him glances of hope and terror. "They are on the track!" he said in a low voice, and rose to his feet. He had heard it! They were still listening—finally they too hear; one dog yelps, then two, twenty, all the hounds at once in a scattered pack catch the scent and whine; they have struck the trail and howl and bay. This is not the slow baying of dogs that chase a hare, a fox, or a deer, but a constant, sharp yelp, quick, broken, and furious. So the hounds have struck no distant trail, the beast is before their eyes—suddenly the cry of the pursuit stops, they have reached the beast—again there is yelping and snarling—the beast is defending himself, and is undoubtedly maiming some of them; amid the baying of the hounds one hears more and more often the howl of a dying dog.
The hunters stood still, and each of them, with his gun ready, bent forward like a bow with his head thrust into the forest; they could wait no longer! Already one after another left his station and crowded into the thicket; each wished to be the first to meet the beast; though the Seneschal kept cautioning them, though the Seneschal rode to each station on his horse, crying that whoever should leave his place, be he simple peasant or gentleman's son, should get the lash upon his back. There was-no help for it! All, against orders, ran into the wood. three guns sounded at once, then a continual cannonade, until, louder than the reports, the bear roared and filled with echoes all the forest. A dreadful roar, of pain, fury, and despair! After it the yelping of the dogs, the cries of the sportsmen, the horns of the beaters thundered from the centre of the thicket. Some hunters hasten into the forest, others cock their guns, and all rejoice. Only the Seneschal in grief cries that they have missed him. The sportsmen and the beaters had all gone to the same side, between the toils and the forest, to cut off the beast; but the bear, frightened by the throng of dogs and men, turned back into places less carefully guarded, towards the fields, whence the sportsmen set to guard them had departed, where of the many ranks of hunters there remained only the Seneschal, Thaddeus, the Count, and a few beaters.
Here the wood was thinner; from within could be heard a roaring, and the crackling of breaking boughs, until finally the bear darted from the dense forest like a thunderbolt from the clouds. From all sides the dogs were chasing him, terrifying him, tearing him, until at last he rose on his hind legs and looked around, frightening his enemies with a roar; with his fore paws he tore up now the roots of a tree, now charred stumps, now stones that had grown into the earth, hurling them at dogs and men; finally he broke down a tree, and brandishing it like a club to the right and the left, he rushed straight at the last guardians of the line of beaters, at the Count and Thaddeus. They stood their ground unafraid, and levelled the barrels of their muskets at the beast, like two lightning-rods at the bosom of a dark cloud; then both at once pulled their triggers (inexperienced lads!) and the guns thundered together: they missed. The bear leapt towards them; they seized with four hands a pike that had been stuck in the earth, and each pulled it towards him; they gazed at the bear till two rows of tusks glittered from a great red mouth, and a paw armed with claws was already descending on their brows. They turned pale, jumped back, and slipped away to where the trees were less dense. The beast reared up behind them, already he was making a slash with his claws; but he missed, ran on, reared up again aloft, and with his black paw aimed at the Count's yellow hair. He would have torn his skull from his brains as a hat from the head, but just then the Assessor and the Notary jumped out from either side, and Gerwazy came running up some hundred paces away in front, and after him Robak, though without a gun—and the three shot together at the same instant, as though at a word of command. The bear leapt into the air. like a hare before the hounds, came down upon his head, and turning a somersault with his four paws, and throwing the bloody weight of his huge body right under the Count, hurled him from his feet to the earth; he still roared, and tried to rise, when the furious Strapczyna and the ferocious Sprawnik descended on him.
Then the Seneschal seized his buffalo horn, which hung by a strap, long, spotted, and crooked as a boa constrictor, and with both hands pressed it to his lips. He blew up his cheeks like a balloon, his eyes became bloodshot, he half-lowered his eyelids, drew his belly into half its size, sending thence into his lungs his entire supply of breath, and began to play. The horn, like a cyclone with a whirling breath, bore the music into the forest and an echo repeated it. The sportsmen became silent, the hunters were amazed by the power, purity, and marvellous harmony of the notes. The old man was once more exhibiting before an audience of huntsmen all that art for which he had once been famous in the forests; straightway he filled and made alive the woods and groves as though he had led into them a whole kennel and had begun the hunt. For in the playing there was a short history of the hunt. First there was a ringing, brisk summons—that was the morning call; then yelp upon yelp whined forth—that was the baying of the dogs; and here and there was a harsher tone like thunder—that was the shooting.
Here he broke off, but he still held the horn. It seemed to all that the Seneschal was still playing on, but that was the echo playing.
He began once more. You might think that the horn was changing its form, and that in the Seneschal's lips it grew now thicker and now thinner, imitating the cries of animals; once, prolonging itself into a wolf's neck, it howled long and piercingly; again, as if broadening into a bear's throat, it roared; then the bellowing of a bison cut the wind.
Here he broke off, but he still held the horn. It seemed to all that the Seneschal was still playing on, but that was the echo playing. Hearing this masterpiece of horn music, the oaks repeated it to the oaks and the beeches to the beeches.
He blew again. In the horn there seemed to be a hundred horns; one could hear mingled outcries of setting on the dogs, wrath and terror of the hunters, the pack, and the beasts: finally the Seneschal raised his horn aloft, and a hymn of triumph smote the clouds.
Here he broke off, but he still held the horn. It seemed to all that the Seneschal was still playing on, but that was the echo playing. In the wood there seemed to be a horn for every tree; one repeated the song to another, as though it spread from choir to choir. And the music went on, ever broader, ever farther, ever more gentle, and ever more pure and perfect, until it died away somewhere far off, somewhere on the threshold of the heavens!
The Seneschal, taking both hands from the horn, spread them out like a cross; the horn fell, and swung on his leather belt. The Seneschal, his face swollen and shining, and his eyes uplifted, stood as if inspired, catching with his ear the last expiring tones. But meanwhile thousands of plaudits thundered forth, thousands of congratulations and shouts of vivat.
They gradually became quiet, and the eyes of the throng were turned on the huge, fresh corpse of the bear. He lay besprinkled with blood and pierced with bullets; his breast was plunged into the thick, matted grass; his paws were spread out before him like a cross; he still breathed, but he poured forth a stream of blood through his nostrils; his eyes were still open, but he did not move his head. The Chamberlain's bulldogs held him beneath the ears; on the left side hung Strapczyna; on the right Sprawnik, choking his throat, sucked out the black blood.
Thereupon the Seneschal bade place an iron bar between the teeth of the dogs, and thus open their jaws. With the butts of their guns they turned the remains of the beast on its back, and again a triple vivat smote the clouds.
"Well?" cried the Assessor, flourishing the barrel of his musket; "well? how about my little gun? It aims high, does it! Well? how about my little gun? It is not a large birdie,85 but what a showing it made! That is no new thing for it either; it never wastes a charge upon the air. It was a present to me from Prince Sanguszko."
Here he showed a musket which, though small, was of marvellous workmanship, and began to enumerate its virtues.
"I was running," interrupted the Notary, wiping the sweat from his brow, "I was running right after the bear; but the Seneschal called out, "Stay in your places!" How could I stay there; the bear was making full speed for the fields, like a hare, farther and farther; finally I lost my breath and had no hope of catching up; then I looked to the right: he was standing right there, and the trees were not dense. When I aimed at him, I thought, "Hold on, Bruin!" and sure enough, there he lies dead. It's a fine gun, a real Sagalas; there is the inscription, Sagalas, London à Balabanowka." (A famous Polish smith lived there, who made Polish guns, but decorated them in English fashion.)
"How's that?" snorted the Assessor, "in the name of a thousand bears! The idea of your killing it! What rubbish are you talking?"
"Listen," replied the Notary, "this is no court investigation; this is a hunting party; we will summon all as witnesses."
So a furious brawl arose in the company, some taking the side of the Assessor and some that of the Notary. No one remembered about Gerwazy, for all had run in from the sides, and had not noticed what was going on in front. The Seneschal took the floor:—
"Now at all events there is some reason for a quarrel, for this, gentlemen, is no worthless rabbit; this is a bear: here one need have no compunctions about seeking satisfaction, whether it be with the sabre or even with pistols. It is hard to reconcile your dispute, so according to the ancient custom we give you our permission for a duel. I remember that in my time there lived two neighbours, both worthy gentlemen, and of long descent; they dwelt on opposite sides of the river Wilejka; one was named Domejko and the other Dowejko.86 They both shot at the same time at a she-bear; which killed it it was hard to ascertain, and they had a terrible quarrel, and swore to shoot at each other over the hide of the bear: that was in true gentleman's style, almost barrel to barrel. This duel made a great stir, and in those days they sang songs about it. I was their second; how everything came to pass—I will tell you the whole story from the beginning."
Before the Seneschal began to speak, Gerwazy had settled the dispute. He walked attentively around the bear; finally he drew his hanger, cut the snout in two, and in the rear of the head, opening the layers of the brain, he found the bullet. He took it out, wiped it on his coat, measured it with a cartridge, applied it to the barrel of his flintlock, and then said, raising his palm with the bullet resting upon it:—
"Gentlemen, this bullet is not from either of your weapons; it came from this single-barrelled Horeszko carbine." (Here he raised an old flintlock, tied up with strings.) "But I did not shoot it. O, how much daring was needed then! it is terrible to remember it; my eyes grew dark! For both the young gentlemen were running straight towards me, and behind them was the bear—just, just above the head of the Count, the last of the Horeszkos, though in the female line! ‘Jesus Maria!’ I exclaimed, and the angels of the Lord sent to my aid the Bernardine Monk. He put us all to shame; O, he is a glorious monk! While I trembled, while I dared not touch the trigger, he snatched the musket from my hands, aimed, and fired. To shoot between two heads! at a hundred paces! and not to miss! and in the very centre of his jaw! to knock out his teeth so! Gentlemen, long have I lived, and but one man have I seen who could boast himself such a marksman: that man once famous among us for so many duels, who used to shoot out the heels from under women's shoes, that scoundrel of scoundrels, renowned in memorable times, that Jacek, commonly called Mustachio; his surname I will not mention. But now it is no time for him to be hunting bears; that ruffian is certainly buried in Hell up to his very mustaches. Glory to the Monk, he has saved the lives of two men, and perhaps of three. Gerwazy will not boast, but if the last child of the Horeszkos' blood had fallen into the jaws of the beast, I should no longer be in this world, and perhaps the bear would have gnawed clean my old bones. Come, Father Monk, let us drink your good health!"
In vain they searched for the Monk: all that they could discover was that after the killing of the beast he had appeared for a moment, had leapt towards the Count and Thaddeus, and, seeing that both were safe and sound, had raised his eyes to Heaven, quietly repeated a prayer, and had run quickly into the field, as though some one were chasing him.
Meanwhile at the Seneschal's bidding they had thrown into a heap bundles of heather, dry brushwood, and logs; the fire burst forth, and a grey pine tree of smoke grew up and spread out aloft like a canopy. Over the flame they joined pikes into a tripod; on the spears they hung big-bellied kettles; from the waggons they brought vegetables, meal, roast meats, and bread.
The Judge opened a locked liquor case, in which there could be seen rows of white necks of bottles; from among them he took the largest crystal decanter—this the Judge had received as a gift from the Monk, Robak. It was Dantzic brandy, a drink dear to a Pole. "Long live Dantzic!" cried the Judge, raising the flask on high; "the city once was ours, and it will be ours again!" And he filled each glass with the silvery liquor, until at last it began to drip golden and glitter in the sun.87
In the kettles they were cooking bigos.88 In words it is hard to express the wonderful taste and colour of bigos and its marvellous odour; in a description of it one hears only the clinking words and the regular rimes, but no city stomach can understand their content. In order to appreciate Lithuanian songs and dishes, one must have health, must live in the country, and must be returning from a hunting party.
However, even without these sauces, bigos is no ordinary dish, for it is artistically composed of good vegetables. The foundation of it is sliced, sour cabbage, which, as the saying is, goes into the mouth of itself; this, enclosed in a kettle, covers with its moist bosom the best parts of selected meat, and is parboiled, until the fire extracts from it all the living juices, and until the fluid boils over the edge of the pot, and the very air around is fragrant with the aroma.
The bigos was soon ready. The huntsmen with a thrice-repeated vivat, armed with spoons, ran up and assailed the kettle; the copper rang, the vapour burst forth, the bigos evaporated like camphor, it vanished and flew away; only in the jaws of the caldrons the steam still seethed, as in the craters of extinct volcanoes.
When they had eaten and drunk their fill, they put the beast on a waggon, and themselves mounted their steeds. All were gay and talkative, except the Assessor and the Notary, who were more testy than the day before, quarrelling over the merits of that Sanguszko gun and that Sagalas musket from Balabanowka. The Count and Thaddeus also rode on in no merry mood, being ashamed that they had missed and had retreated; for in Lithuania whoever lets a bear get through the circle of beaters must toil long before he repairs his fame.
The Count said that he had reached the pike first, and that Thaddeus had hindered him from encountering the beast; Thaddeus maintained that, being the stronger, and the more skilful in work with a heavy pike, he had wished to relieve the Count of the trouble. Such nipping words they said to each other, now and again, in the midst of the cries and uproar of the train.
The Seneschal was riding in the middle; the worthy old man was merry beyond his wont and very talkative. Wishing to amuse the quarrelsome hunters and to bring them to an agreement, for their benefit he concluded his story of Dowejko and Domejko:—
Assessor, if I wanted you to fight a duel with the Notary, don't think that I thirst for human blood; God forbid! I wanted to amuse you, I wanted, so to speak, to arrange a comedy for you, to renew a conceit that I invented forty years ago, a splendid one! You are younger men, and do not remember about it, but in my time it was famous from this forest to the woods of Polesie.
All the animosities of Domejko and Dowejko proceeded, strange to say, from the very unfortunate similarity of their names. For when, at the time of the district diets,89 the friends of Dowejko were recruiting partisans, some one would whisper to a gentleman, ‘Give your vote to Dowejko’; but he, not hearing quite correctly, would give his vote to Domejko. Once when, at a banquet, the Marshal Rupejko proposed a toast, ‘Vivat Dowejko,’ others shouted ‘Domejko’; and the guests sitting in the middle did not know what to do, especially considering one's indistinct speech at dinner time.
"That was not the worst: once a certain drunken squire had a sword fight in Wilno with Domejko and received two wounds; later that squire, returning home from Wilno, by a strange chance took the same boat as Dowejko. So, when they were journeying along the Wilejka in the same boat, and he asked his neighbour who he was, the reply was ‘Dowejko.’ Without further ado he drew his blade from under his winter coat; slash, slash, and on Domejko's account he cut off the mustache of Dowejko.
Finally, as the last straw, it must needs be that on a hunting party things happened thus. The two men of the name were standing near each other, and both shot at the same time at the same she-bear. To be sure, immediately after their shots it did fall lifeless, but before that it had been carrying a dozen bullets in its belly. Many persons had guns of the same calibre. Who killed the bear? Try to find out! How can you tell?
"Here they shouted: ‘Enough! We must end this matter once for all. Whether God or the devil united us, we must separate; two of us, like two suns, seem to be too much for one world.’ And so they drew their sabres and took their positions. Both were worthy men; the more the other gentry tried to reconcile them, the more furiously they let fly at each other. They changed their arms; from sabres they passed to pistols; they took their positions, we cried that they had put the barriers too near together. They, to spite us, swore to shoot over the skin of the bear, sure death! almost barrel to barrel; both were fine shots. ‘Let Hreczecha be our second.’ ‘All right,’ I said, ‘let the sexton dig a hole at once, for such a dispute cannot end without results. But fight like gentlemen, and not like butchers. It is well enough to shorten the distance, I see that you are bold fellows; but do you want to shoot with your pistols on each other's bellies? I will not permit it; I agree to pistols, but you shall shoot from a distance neither longer nor shorter than across the bear's hide; with my own hands as second I will stretch the hide of the bear on the ground, and I myself will station you. You shall stand on one side, at the end of the snout, and you at the tail.’—‘Agreed,’ they shouted; ‘the time?’—‘To-morrow.’—‘The place?’—‘The Usza tavern.’—They parted. But I set to reading Virgil."
Here the Seneschal was interrupted by a cry of "At him!" Right from under the horses a hare had darted out; first Bobtail and then Falcon started after it. They had taken the greyhounds to the hunt, knowing that as they returned through the fields they might very likely happen on a rabbit. They were walking without leashes alongside the horses; when they caught sight of the hare, before the hunters could urge them on they started after it. The Notary and the Assessor wanted to follow on horseback, but the Seneschal checked them, saying; "Hold! stand and watch! I will not permit a person to stir from the spot. From here we can all see well how the hare runs for the field." In very truth, the hare felt behind it the hunters and the pack; it was making for the field; it stretched out behind it its ears like two deer's horns; it showed like a long grey streak extended above the ploughed land; beneath it its legs stuck out like four rods; you would have said that it did not move them, but only tapped the earth on the surface, like a swallow kissing the water. Behind it was dust, behind the dust the dogs; from a distance it seemed that the hare, the dust, and the dogs blended into one body, as though some great serpent were winding over the plain; the hare was the head, the dust in the rear was like a dark blue neck, and the dogs seemed to form a restless double tail.
The Notary and the Assessor gazed with open mouths, and held their breath. Suddenly the Notary grew pale as a handkerchief; the Assessor grew pale too: they saw—something fatal was happening; the farther that serpent went, the longer it became; it was already breaking in half; already that neck of dust had vanished; the head was already near the wood, and the tails somewhere behind! The head disappeared; for one last instant some one seemed to wave a tassel; it was lost in the wood, and near the wood the tail broke up.
The poor dogs ran bewildered along the border; they seemed to offer each other mutual advice and accusations. Finally they came back, slowly bounding over the furrows, with drooping ears and tails between their legs; and, running up, for very shame they did not dare to lift their eyes; and, instead of going to their masters, they stopped on one side.
The Notary drooped his gloomy brow towards his breast; the Assessor glanced around, but in no merry mood. Then they began to explain to the audience how their greyhounds were not used to going without leashes, how the hare had started out suddenly, how it was a poor chase over the ploughed field, where the dogs ought to have had boots, it was all so covered with flints and sharp stones.
They learnedly elucidated the matter, as experienced masters of hounds; from their words the hunters might have profited greatly, but they did not listen attentively; some began to whistle, others to titter; others, remembering the bear, talked about that, being still occupied by the recent hunt.
The Seneschal had hardly once glanced at the hare: seeing that it had escaped, he indifferently turned his head and finished his interrupted discourse:—
"Where did I stop? Aha, at my making them both promise that they would shoot across the bear skin! The gentlemen cried out: ‘That is sure death, almost barrel to barrel!’ But I laughed to myself, for my friend Maro had taught me that the skin of a beast is no ordinary measure. You know, my friends, how Queen Dido sailed to Libya, and there with great trouble managed to buy a morsel of land, such as could be covered with a bull's hide.90 On that tiny morsel of land arose Carthage! So I thought that over attentively by night.
"Hardly was day dawning, when from one side came Dowejko in a gig, and from the other Domejko on horseback. They beheld that over the river stretched a shaggy bridge, a girdle of bear skin cut into strips. I stationed Dowejko at the tail of the beast on one side, and Domejko on the other side. ‘Now blaze away,’ I said, ‘for all your lives if you choose, but I won't let you go until you are friends again.’ They got furious, but then the gentry present fairly rolled on the ground for laughter; and the priest and I with impressive words set to giving them lessons from the Gospel and from the Statutes. There was no help for it; they laughed and had to be reconciled.
"Their quarrel turned later into a lifelong friendship, and Dowejko married the sister of Domejko; Domejko espoused the sister of his brother-in-law, Panna Dowejko: they divided their property into two equal portions, and on the spot where so strange an occurrence had happened they built a tavern, and called it the Little Bear."