The Grandmother (Božena Němcová, 1891)/Chapter 5
VICTORKA is the daughter of a peasant from Zernov. Her parents were buried long ago, but her brother and sister still live. Fifteen years ago she was a maiden, handsome as a strawberry, spry as a fawn, industrious as a bee; far and wide there was none equal to her, and no one could have wished for a better wife. Such a girl, with a dowry in prospect, doesn't remain under a cover. Her fame spread far and wide, and wooers passed each other at the door. Some pleased both father and mother, some were well-to-do peasants, so that, as they say, she would have come to a full crib; but she would not see it so, and only those found favor in her eyes who danced the best, and they only at the dance.
The father was not at all pleased that his daughter should dispose of her suitors in such an off-hand way, and at times he would remonstrate with her, telling her he himself would choose a husband for her and compel her to marry him. Then she would cry and beg her father not to drive her away from home; she assured him that she had time enough for marriage seeing she was but twenty, that she wanted to enjoy life, and that God only knew whether she would be happy after she was married. The father loved the girl dearly, and when she went on like this he pitied her, and seeing her pretty face thought: "It is true, there is time enough, you will not be without wooers." The people, however, thought differently; they said Victorka was proud, that she was waiting for some one to come after her in a carriage; they prophesied that pride goes before a fall, that who chooses the longest chooses the worst. They uttered these and similar sayings.
At that time the chasseurs were quartered in the village, and one of them began to follow Victorka. When she went to church, he went, too, and always posted himself where he could look straight at her. When she went cutting grass, he was sure to be somewhere near her; in short, he followed her like a shadow. People said he was not in his right mind; when they spoke of him in her presence she would say: "Why does that soldier follow me? He doesn't speak, he is like a churl; I am afraid of him. I feel the cold chills creeping over me whenever he is around, and those eyes of his make my head swim."
Those eyes, those eyes! everybody said they meant nothing good; some said that at night they shone like live coals, and that those dark eyebrows which overshadowed them like ravens' wings, meeting in the middle, were a sure sign that he possessed the power of "the evil eye." Some pitied him, saying: "Dear Lord! is a person to be blamed for such a fault, when he was born with it? And, besides, such eyes injure only some people; others need not be afraid of them." Nevertheless, when he happened to look at one of the village children, the mother hastened to wipe the child's face with a white cloth; and when a child became ill, the gossips at once said that the dark chasseur had overlooked it. Finally the people became accustomed to his swarthy complexion, and some of the girls went so far as to say that he would be fairly good looking if only he were more agreeable. Their opinion of him amounted to this: "What's to be done with such a fellow? God only knows where he is from; perhaps he is not human; one feels like signing oneself when he is about, and saying: 'God with us and evil away!' He doesn't dance, nor speak, nor sing; let him alone." And they left him alone. But it was easy for them to say: "Let him alone," when he paid no attention to them; it was quite different with Victorka. She feared to go out alone lest she should meet those wicked eyes. She enjoyed the dance no longer, for she knew that dark face was watching her from some corner of the room; she seldom went to the spinning bees, for if not inside, the dark chasseur was sure to be out by the window, and her voice choked in her throat and her thread broke. She suffered much. People noticed the change in her, but no one dreamed that the dark soldier could be the cause. They thought Victorka allowed him to follow her because she did not know how to get rid of him. Once she said to her mates: "Believe me girls, if now a suitor should come, I would marry him, were he rich or poor, handsome or hideous, if only he were from another village." What has got into your head? Have you trouble at home, that you are so dissatisfied as to want to leave us?" "Think not thus of me! It's that soldier; while he is about, I cannot stand it here; you can't imagine how he torments me! Why, I cannot even say my prayers properly nor sleep in peace; for those eyes pursue me everywhere," said Victorka bursting into tears.
Why don't you send him word not to follow you, that you can't endure him, that he is salt to your eyes?" said her companions.
"Why, haven't I done so? To be sure, I did not speak to him myself; how could I, when he comes like a shadow? But I sent word to him by one of his comrades."
"Well, and what did he say?" asked the girls. "He said that no one had any right to tell him where he should or should not go; that besides, he had not as yet told me that he loved me; and that, therefore, I should not send him word that I wouldn't have him!"
"Of all things, such rudeness!" frowned the girls. "What does he think of himself? We ought to revenge ourselves upon him."
"Better let such an one alone; he could bewitch you," suggested the more prudent ones.
"Lack-a-daisy! what can he do to us? To do this he would be obliged to have something we had worn next to our bodies, and none of us would give him that, and we will accept nothing from him; then what need we fear? So, dear Victorka, don't you be afraid; we will go with you everywhere, and some day that churl will catch it from us," said the more courageous of her friends.
But Victorka looked about timidly and was not at all comforted by their words. She sighed: "Oh that God himself would free me from this cross!"
What Victorka had confided to her mates did not remain a secret; it was told everywhere, till it went across the fields to the next village.
In a few days there appeared at Victorka's home a certain well dressed man from the neighboring village. Their conversation turned on this and that, until he owned up that his neighbor desired to have his son marry, that his son liked Victorka, and that he was sent as a match-maker, to find out whether or not they could come to arrange the betrothal.
"Wait a moment, I must ask Victorka. As far as I am concerned, I know Simon and his son Anton, and have nothing against it," said the father and went to call Victorka into the spare room for consultation.
As soon as Victorka heard the proposal she said: "Let them come." The father thought it strange that she should decide so quickly, and asked her if she knew Anton, saying that she must not decide in haste and then change her mind and have them come to no purpose. But she remained firm, replying that she knew Anton Simon well, and that he was a very estimable young man.
"I am rejoiced at this,” said the father, "besides, it's your own choice. In God's name let them come."
When the father had gone to tell the match-maker the result of the conference, the mother entered the room, and making the sign of the cross upon Victorka's head wished her joy.
"What pleases me the most is that you will not have either a mother-in-law or a sister-in-law in the house, that you will be the housekeeper yourself," said the mother.
"O dearest mother, I should marry him if I had to live with two mothers-in-law."
"That is so much the better, if you think so much of each other," said the mother.
"It isn't that, dear mother; I should have accepted any other young man as soon."
"For heaven's sake, what are you talking about! So many have come, and you refused them all."
"Then I was not followed by that soldier with those awful eyes," whispered Victorka. "You have lost your senses! What of that soldier? What do you care for him? Let him go where he wishes, he cannot carry you away from your home."
"But, dearest mother, it is he, only he. My heart is heavy and full of sorrow; I am so uneasy and can find no peace anywhere," sobbed the girl. "Why didn't you tell me long ago? I would have taken you to the blacksmith's wife; she knows how to cure such things. Never mind, to-morrow we shall go," she said, comforting her daughter.
The following day mother and daughter went to the old dame. It was said that she knew a great many things that other people did not know. Whenever anybody lost anything, when cows did not give the usual amount of milk, when any one was "overlooked," the blacksmith's wife always knew the remedy; she knew how to discover everything. Victorka confided to her all her trouble, telling her just how she felt.
"And you never spoke to him, not a single word?" inquired the dame.
"Not a word."
"Did he never give you, or send you by other soldiers, something to eat, such as apples or sweet-meats?"
"Nothing at all. The other soldiers have little to do with him; they say he is so proud, and all his life such a recluse. They said this at our house.
"He is a real ghoul," said the blacksmith's wife with great assurance; "but don't you be afraid, Victorka, I shall help you; all is not lost yet. To-morrow I shall bring you something which you must carry with you everywhere. In the morning, when you leave your room, you must never omit to bless yourself with holy water and say: 'God be with us, and the evil one away!' When you go through the fields, you must not turn to the right or to the left, and should that soldier address you, never mind, though he speak as an angel. He can charm even with the voice. Better put your hands over your ears! Don't you forget this. If you are not better in a few days, we will try something else, but be sure to come again."
Victorka left in a happy frame of mind, hoping that she should again feel as light and cheerful as she used to be. The next day the blacksmith's wife brought her something tied up in a bit of red cloth, and herself sewed it around the girl's neck, giving strict orders at the same time that she must never take it off or show it to anybody. In the evening, when she was cutting grass, she caught a glimpse of somebody standing near the trees and felt the blood rush to her cheeks; but she plucked up courage and did not look around once, and having finished her work flew home as if she were pursued. The third day was Sunday. The mother was baking kolaches, the father went to invite the schoolmaster and several others of the older neighbors to spend the afternoon, and the villagers putting their heads together said: "At Mikesh's, they will celebrate the betrothal!"
In the afternoon three men in Sunday clothes entered the yard; two had rosemary on their sleeves. The master of the house welcomed them at the door, and the servants standing near said: "May God grant you success."
"God grant it," replied the speaker, both for father and son.
The groom was the last to cross the threshold, and the women outside were heard to say: "A handsome youth, that Anton; he carries his head like a deer; and see, what a fine sprig of rosemary he has on his sleeve! Where did he buy it?"
The men replied to this: "Yes, indeed! he may carry his head high when he carries off the fairest lass in the village, the best dancer, a good housekeeper, and wealthy, besides."
Thus reasoned many parents, and some were offended that Victorka had chosen one from across the fields. Why wasn't this one or that one good enough for her? why this haste and these strange notions!" Thus they ran on, as is the custom on such occasions.
Before evening the marriage contract was finished. It was drawn out by the schoolmaster, the parents and witnesses putting down three crosses instead of their names, and Victorka gave her hand to Anton, promising that in three weeks she would be his wife. The next day, her friends came to congratulate her, and whenever she appeared on the common, she was greeted with the words, "God grant you happiness, bride!" But when the young people said: "What a pity that you are going away! Why do you leave us, Victorka?" then her eyes filled with tears.
For several days Victorka was happier, and when she had occasion to go out of the village was not oppressed with the fear that she had felt before. She wore the amulet from the blacksmith's wife, as she had done before she was a bride. She felt free from anxiety, and thanked God and the old dame for her delivery from danger. Her joy, however, was of short duration. One evening she was sitting with Anton in the orchard. They were discussing plans for their future housekeeping, and were talking about the wedding. Suddenly Victorka stopped, her eyes were fixed upon the bush before her, and her hand trembled.
"What is the matter?" asked Anton much surprised.
"Look! between those branches before us,—don't you see anything?" she whispered.
Anton looked, but declared he saw nothing.
"It seemed to me that the dark soldier was watching us," she whispered so low as to be scarcely heard.
"Just wait, we'll make an end of that," cried Anton. He sprang up and searched all around, but in vain; he saw no one. "He will not escape so easily another time; if he persists in looking at you even now, I'll make him rue it!" scolded Anton.
"Don't pick any quarrel with him, I beg of you, Anton. A soldier is a soldier. Father himself went to Red Hura, and he would have gladly paid something to the officer of that town for removing him from our village; but he said that he could not do it, even if he desired to; and, besides, it was no offense, when a man looked at a girl. Father learned from the soldiers, that that chasseur comes from a very wealthy family, that he enlisted of his own free will, and can leave when he chooses. If you begin a quarrel with him you will be sure to get the worst of it." Thus spoke Victorka, and Anton promised to let the soldier alone.
From that evening Victorka was again oppressed by moments of gloom and heaviness, and however confidently she pressed the amulet to her breast, whenever she felt those baleful eyes fixed upon her, her heart's loud beatings were not quieted thereby. She went to the blacksmith's wife for further advice.
"I don't know but that it is a punishment upon me from God; for what you have given me doesn't help me at all," said Victorka.
"Never mind, my child, never mind. I'll give it to him yet, even if he were Anti-christ himself. But first I must have two things from him. Before I secure those, you must avoid him as much as possible! Pray to your guardian angel and for those souls in purgatory for whom nobody else prays. If you redeem one, she will intercede for you."
"That is the worst, dear God-mother; my mind is so disturbed that I cannot pray in peace," sobbed the poor girl.
"My child, why did you leave it so long, until the evil power overcame you? But with God's help we shall conquer that demon yet."
Victorka summoned all her courage; she prayed fervently, and when her thoughts began to wander she thought of Christ's crucifixion, of the Virgin Mary, so that the evil power should not overcome her. She guarded herself thus for two days; the third day, however, she went into the farthest corner of her father's fields to cut some clover; she told the workman to follow her soon, as she would hurry with the cutting. She ran like a fawn, and the people stopped their work to look at her and admired the grace of her movements. Thus she went, but home she was brought by the workman, on the green clover, pale, wounded. Her foot was bound in a fine, white handkerchief, and she had to be lifted from the cart and carried into the house.
"Holy Virgin! what has happened to you, my daughter?" lamented the mother. "I stepped upon a thorn; it went deep into my foot and made me ill. Please take me into my room. I will lie down," begged Victorka.
They carried her in, laid her on her bed, and the father hastened to the blacksmith's wife. She came post haste, and with her a crowd of uninvited neighbors, as is generally the way. One advised burnet, the second, dragon's head, the third urged then to smoke it, the fourth, to conjure it; but the wise old dame was not put out by those differences of opinion. She bound up the swollen foot in a poultice of potato starch. Then she dismissed all the visitors, saying that she herself would watch by Victorka, and soon everything would be all right.
"Tell me, my child, how was it? You seem to be greatly disturbed. And who was it that bound up your foot in that fine, white handkerchief? I hid it quickly so that those gossips should not notice it," said the careful woman, placing Victorka's foot in a more comfortable position.
"Where did you put it?" quickly asked the girl.
"You have it under your pillow."
Victorka reached for the handkerchief, examined the bloody stains, the embroidered name, which she did not know, and the color of her face changed from white to crimson.
"My child, my child, I do not like your looks. What am I to think of you?"
"Think that God has forsaken me, that nothing can help me, that I am forever and ever lost."
"She has a fever and is raving," thought the good woman, laying her hand on Victorka's cheeks; but they were cold, and her hands were cold, too, and only her eyes seemed to burn, as she fixed them upon the handkerchief which she held with both hands before her.
"Listen to me," began Victorka quietly, "but do not say anything to any one. I will tell you everything. Those two days I did not see him,—of course you know whom I mean,—but to-day, this morning it kept sounding in my ears: 'Go to the clover field, go to the clover field,' as if some one were whispering to me. I knew it was some temptation, because he is often there sitting under a tree on the hill; but somehow I had no rest until I was on my way with the scythe and the bags. As I was going I thought I was my own worst enemy, but something kept whispering in my ears: 'Only go, go cut your clover, who knows whether he will be there? Why should you be afraid? Tomesh will follow you soon. Thus it drove me on till I came to the field. I looked toward the tree but nobody was there. 'If he is not there, the danger is past,' thought I, and took up the scythe to cut the clover. Then it occurred to me to try my luck. I wanted to find a four-leaved clover; for I thought: 'If I find one, I shall be happy with Anton.' I looked and looked, almost leaving my eyes on the clover, but I found none. Then I happened to look toward the hill, and whom did I see standing under a tree but that soldier! I turned away quickly; but at that instant I stepped upon some thorns that lay near the path, and one went into my foot. I did not cry out, but the pain was so intense that it grew dark before my eyes, and I think I must have fainted away. As in a dream, I felt that some one took me up in his arms and carried me away, and then in great pain I awoke. I was at the spring, and that soldier was kneeling at my side. He dipped his white handkerchief in the water and bound up my foot in it.
"'My God!' thought I, 'what is going to happen now? You cannot escape those eyes. It will be best if you do not look into them.' I suffered much from the pain, my head swam, but I did not utter a whisper, and kept my eyes closed. He laid his hand on my forehead and took hold of my hand. My blood froze with terror, but still I said not a word. Then he arose, sprinkled water in my face, and raised my head. What was I to do? I had to open my eyes. O my dear Godmother, those eyes of his shone upon me like God's dear sun! I covered my face with my hands, but when he began to speak, I could not withstand the charm of his voice. Oh you were right when you said he could bewitch one with his voice; his words ring in my ears even yet. He said that he loved me, that I was his bliss, his heaven!"
"What wicked words! one can see that they are the snares of the Evil One! Unhappy girl, what were you thinking of that you believed him!" lamented the blacksmith's wife.
"Heavens! how could I doubt him, when he told me that he loved me?"
"Told you! what does that amount to?—all fraud and deception. He wants to deprive you of your reason."
"That is what I told him; but he protested on his soul's salvation that he loved me from the first time that he had seen me, and that he refrained from speaking with me and telling me so, because he did not want to bind me to his own unhappy fate, that followed him every where, never allowing him to enjoy any happiness. Oh, I do not remember what all he said, but it was enough to make one weep. I believed everything, I told him that I had been afraid of him, that out of fear I had become a bride, that I wore on my heart an amulet; and when he asked for it, I gave it to him," said Victorka.
"O my blessed Savior," lamented the woman," she gives him the consecrated amulet, she gives him a thing warmed on her body! Now you are in his power, now not even God can tear you from his claws, now he has bewitched you entirely!"
"He said that that witchcraft was love and that I should believe no other."
"Yes, yes, he said—love; I would tell him what love is, but all in vain now! What have you done? Why he is a ghoul, and he will draw your blood from your veins and then choke you, and you will not find rest even in your grave. And you might have been so happy!"
Those words frightened Victorka, but after a long pause she said: "All is lost; I shall go with him even if he lead me to perdition. Cover me; I am so cold!"
The blacksmith's wife covered her up with featherbeds, but Victorka was cold all the time and did not speak another word. The blacksmith's wife thought a great deal of Victorka, and although her giving away the charm made her very angry, still the fate of the girl, whom she now regarded as lost, filled her with grief. All that Victorka had told her she kept to herself. From that day Victorka lay like one dead. She did not speak, except some wandering words as if in her sleep; she did not ask for anything, she did not notice anybody. The blacksmith's wife did not leave her bedside, and exhausted all her store of knowledge to help her. But all was in vain. The parents grew more sorrowful day by day, and the lover went away each day with a heavier heart. The blacksmith's wife shook her head as she thought: "This is not of itself; how could it be, that none of those remedies that have helped so many others help her? That soldier has overpowered her with some deadly charm, that is it!" Such were her reflections night and day, and when one night she happened to look out of the window of the sick chamber and saw in the orchard the muffled form of a man, whose eyes glowed like burning coals,—she would have taken her oath they did,—she was then sure that her suspicions were correct.
But she was greatly rejoiced, when one day Mikesh brought the news that the chasseurs had received orders to leave.
"They could have all remained for aught I care, all but that one; his departure gives me more satisfaction than if some one gave me a hundred in gold. The devil himself brought him here. It has been my impression for some time that since he has been here our Victorka is not what she used to be, and that, after all, he has used some black art against her," said the father, and the mother and the blacksmith's wife agreed with him. The latter, however, hoped that after the removal of the evil influence, all would be well again.
The soldiers marched away. That same night Victorka was so much worse that they thought they must send for the priest. Towards morning she grew better, and continued improving until she was able to sit up. The blacksmith's wife herself accounted for this by the departure of the satanic power, but still she was not displeased when people said: "That blacksmith's wife, she is a trump; if it were not for her, Victorka never would have walked again." And when she heard this again and again, she at last believed that her skill had saved the grirl.
But all danger was not yet over. Victorka was around again, walked about the yard, but did not seem like herself. She spoke to no one, did not notice any one, and her expression seemed confused. The blacksmith's wife comforted the parents by saying that this, too, would in time be overcome; and she did not think it necessary that she should watch by her any longer. Victorka's sister Mary slept with her again as before. The first night, when the girls were alone, Mary sat down on Victorka's bed and with a loving voice,—she is a very good soul,—asked her why she was so strange and what ailed her. Victorka looked at her but made no reply.
"You see, sister, I want to tell you something, but I am afraid lest you be angry." Victorka shook her head saying: " Say what you wish, Mary.
"The evening before the soldiers left," began Mary; but hardly had she finished the last word, when Victorka seized her by the hand and quickly asked: "The soldiers went away, and where?"
"I do not know where they went."
"Thank God," said Victorka heaving a deep sigh and falling back upon her pillow.
"Now listen, Victorka, and do not be offended with me; I know you cannot endure that dark soldier, and that you will blame me for speaking to him."
"You spoke to him!" cried Victorka rising again.
"I could not help it, he begged me so to listen to him: but I did not look at him once. While you were so ill he used to come near the house; but I always ran away, for I was afraid of him. One day he met me in the orchard and offered me some kind of herb. He asked me to prepare it for you and said that it would do you good; but I would not take it. I was afraid he wanted to give you a love potion. Then he begged me to tell you that he was going away, that he would never forget his promise, and that you should not forget yours, that you would meet him again. I promised him I would tell you and now I have fulfilled my promise. But do not be afraid, he will never come again, and you shall have no more trouble."
" Thank you, Mary, you are a good girl; but now you may go to sleep," said Victorka, as she caressed the round shoulders of her sister. Mary smoothed down her sister's pillows, said good night, and went to sleep.
The next morning, when she awoke, she found Victorka's bed empty. She thought her sister was about the house; but when she went into the living room, she was not there. She went out into the yard, but did not find her. The parents were surprised and sent to the blacksmith's to see if she had not gone to visit her god-mother, but she had not been there.
"What has become of her?" was the common question, while they searched every corner. The workman was sent to the house of Victorka's lover, to see if she had not gone there. When she was nowhere to be found, and when the lover came and knew nothing whatever of her, the blacksmith's wife owned up. "I think she ran away to follow that soldier!"
"That's a lie!" cried Anton.
"You must be mistaken!" said the parents; how could that be; she could not endure him!"
"Nevertheless, it is so," said she and related what Victorka had confided to her. Then Mary told the conversation she had had with her sister the evening before; and putting one thing to another, they were convinced that, impelled by some secret infernal power which she could not withstand, Victorka had followed the soldier.
"We must not blame her, she could not help it, only she ought to have come to me while it was yet time. Now it is too late. He has bewitched her, and as long as he wishes she must follow him. And suppose you find her and bring her home, she must seek him again," said the old dame with much emphasis.
"I shall go to seek her, let it be how it will. Perhaps she will listen to me, for she was always a good girl," said the father.
"I will go with you, father!" exclaimed Anton, who had listened to all in breathless silence.
"You shall remain at home," replied the father. "When a person is angry, he is not apt to consult his reason, and you might do something for which you would be put in a cool place or get a white coat. Then too, you have suffered enough already; why should you seek further sorrow. She can no longer become your wife, put that out of your mind entirely. If you wish to wait a year for Mary, you may have her, she is a good girl. I should like to have you for my son, but I do not urge you, act according to your own judgment." Hearing these words all the family wept. The father tried to comfort them. "Do not weep, that will do no good; if I do not bring her back, we must leave her with God."
The father took a few dollars for his journey, told the household what must be done in his absence, and started on his journey. Along the way he asked many persons if they had seen his daughter, describing her from head to foot, but nobody had seen her. At Joseph-hof, they told him that the chasseurs went to Hradetz, and at Hradetz he learned that that dark soldier had been put into another division, and that he wanted to be discharged. What had finally become of him they could not tell, but they knew that it was the very same soldier that had been quartered at Zernov. He found no traces of Victorka. He was advised to apply at the police office, but he would hear nothing of this.
"I'll have nothing to do with the police. I don't want her to be brought home like a vagrant, so that people will point the finger at her. She shall not be thus disgraced. Let her be wherever she will, she is in God's hands, without whose will not a hair can fall from her head. If she is to return, she will return; if not, then God's will be done; she shall not be dragged before the public."
This was the father's decision. He begged the gamekeeper at Hradetz, if he should see Victorka or hear anything of her, to tell her that her father sought her, and, if she wished to return, to provide her with a suitable escort. The gamekeeper promised all; for many a good day had he enjoyed at the home of Mikesh. Then the father returned home, his mind at peace, knowing that he had done all that was in his power.
All mourned for Victorka. They paid for prayers and masses that she might return. After waiting a half a year, three quarters of a year, and hearing no news of her, they gave her up as lost.
One day the shepherds brought news to the village that they had seen a woman with black hair in the woods, about as tall as Victorka. Mikesh's whole household went out and searched through the woods, but not a trace was found of any such person.
At that time I was in the first year of my apprenticeship to my predecessor, my late father-in-law. Of course we heard of this, too, and when I went into the forest the next day, he told me to look around and see if I could not discover such a person. That very day, I saw in the woods just above Mikesh's fields, under two firs that had their branches intermingled, a woman sitting. Her hair hung in a tangled mass over her shoulders, and although I had known Victorka, I never should have recognized her in that neglected, wild looking creature. But it was she. Her clothes were of city style, and although much tattered still showed marks of elegance. I noticed, too, that she was soon to become a mother. I got away very quietly and hastened to tell the news to my master. He, in turn, went to tell it at Zernov. The parents wept bitterly and would have preferred to see her in her grave. But what could be done? We agreed to watch where she went and slept, that we might quiet her if possible. One evening she came clear to her father's orchard, sat down, held her knees in both arms with her chin resting upon them, and fixed her eyes upon one spot. Her mother wanted to approach her, but she rose quickly, jumped over the fence, and disappeared in the woods. My master said that they should place some food and clothes for her in the woods, and that perhaps she would notice it. Her parents at once brought what was necessary, and I myself placed it in a convenient spot. The next day I went to see. Of the food the bread only was missing, and of the clothes, the petticoats and the underwear. The rest remained untouched, and on the third day I took it away, lest some one for whom it was not intended should take it. For a long time we could not discover where she slept, until I found out that it was in a cave under three fir trees,—sometime they must have cut stone there. The entrance is covered up with growing shrubbery, so that one not well acquainted with it would find it with difficulty. Once I entered the cave; one or two persons could find room in it. Victorka had nothing there except some dry leaves and moss. That was her bed. Her friends and relatives, and especially her father and Mary, who was then Anton's promised bride, watched for her in many places; they wanted to speak with her and to take her home, but she shunned all intercourse with people and was rarely seen in the day time. When at last she came to the house and sat down, Mary stepped quietly to her and with her coaxing voice said: "Come, Victorka, come with me once more to our room; it is so long since you have slept with me, and I am so lonely. Come and sleep with me!"
Victorka looked at her and allowed herself to be taken by the hand and led into the hall; all at once she sprang away and was gone. For many days she was not seen near the homestead. One night I was standing waiting for game not far from The Old Bleachery; the moon shone so that it was as light as day. All at once I saw Victorka coming out of the woods. When she walks, she always has her hands folded upon her breast and her head bent forward, and she steps so lightly, that she scarcely seems to touch the ground. At this time she went in this way directly to the dam. I used to see her quite often near the water or on the side of the hill under that large oak, and so I did not pay any special attention to her then. But when I observed more closely I saw that she was throwing something into the water, and I heard her laugh so wildly that my hair stood up in terror. My dog began to howl. Victorka then sat down on a stump and sang; I did not understand a word, but the tune was that of the lullaby which mothers sing to their children:
Sleep, my baby, sleep,
Close thy eyelids, sweet,
God himsell slumber with thee,
And his angels rock and guard thee,
Sleep, my baby, sleep!
That song sounded so mournful in the still night that I could hardly remain at my post. For two hours she sat there and sang. Since that time she is at the bank every evening singing that lullaby. In the morning I told my master, and he guessed at once what she most probably threw into the water,—and it was true. When we saw her again, her form was changed. Her mother and the others shuddered; but what could be done? The unknowing cannot sin! Gradually she learned to come to our door, usually when driven by hunger, but she would do then as she does now: She came, posted herself at the door, and remained standing. My wife, who was then a girl, quickly gave her something to eat. She took it without a word, and flew away to the woods. Whenever I go on my rounds, I give her bread, which she takes; but if I attempt to speak to her, she runs away without accepting anything. She is very fond of flowers;if she does not carry some in her hand, she has them in her belt, but when she sees a child, she gives them away. Who can tell whether she knows what she does. I should like to know what is going on in that deranged head of hers, but who can explain it, she least of all!
When Mary and Anton were married, and while they were at the church at Red Hura, Victorka came to the farm. God knows whether it was a mere accident, or whether she heard of her sister's wedding. She had her apron full of flowers; as soon as she came to the door, she scattered them over the yard. Her mother began to call her, and brought her out some kolaches and whatever other dainties she had, but she turned and ran away. Her father was broken down with grief; he loved her. The third year he died. I happened to be in the village at the time. Both Anton and his wife asked me with tears whether I had seen Victorka. They wanted to bring her to the house and did not know how. The father could not die and they all believed she held his soul. I returned to the woods, thinking that if I saw her, I would tell her, whether she understood or not. She sat under the fir trees; I went past her as though by accident, and quietly, so as not to frighten her, said: "Victorka, your father is dying. You might go home."
She sat still as though she had not heard me. I thought: "It is of no use," and went back to the village to tell them. While I was still speaking with Mary at the door, the workman cried: "Victorka is really coming into the orchard!"
"Anton, call all the friends out, and hide yourself, that we may not frighten her," said Mary and went into the orchard. Presently she led Victorka into the room. She was playing with a primrose and did not once raise her beautiful, but confused black eyes. Mary led her as if she were blind. All was silent in the room. On one side of the bed the mother knelt at the foot the only son, the father had his hands folded on his breast, his eyes were turned to heaven; he was in the agony of death. Mary led Victorka clear to his bedside. The dying man turned his eyes upon her and a blissful smile passed over his features. He tried to raise his hand but could not. Victorka probably thought that he wanted something, so she placed the primrose in his hand. Once more the dying man looked at her, heaved a deep sigh,—and was dead. Victorka's presence had helped him to cross the dark river. The mother began to weep, and as soon as Victorka heard so many voices she looked wildly about her, turned to the door, and fled.
I do not know whether she ever again entered her home. During these fifteen years, that I have been living here, I have heard her speak but once. To my dying day I shall not forget it. I was going down to the bridge; on the road were the workmen from the castle hauling some wood, and in the meadow I saw "Golden Hair." That was the secretary from the castle; the girls nicknamed him so, because they could not remember his German name, and because he had very beautiful golden hair, which he wore quite long. He was walking along in the meadow, and because it was warm he took off his cap and went bareheaded.
All at once, as if she had fallen from the sky, Victorka rushed out, seized him by the hair, shook and tore him as if he were a man made of ginger-bread. The German screamed with all his might, I flew down the hill, but Victorka raged and bit him in his hands screaming: "Now I have you in my power, you snake, you devil! Now I'll tear you to pieces! What did you do with my lover? You devil, give me back my lover!" She became so enraged that her voice became broken, and we could not understand her. The German also did not understand her, he was dumbfounded. Had it not been for the workmen, we could have done nothing with her. Seeing the struggle they ran to the scene, and with their assistance the secretary was finally extricated from her hands. When, however, we tried to hold her, she gave a sudden jerk, and before we were aware was out of our hands and ran to the woods, where she stood throwing stones at us and cursing so that the skies trembled. After that I did not see her for several days.
The German became ill from his fright, and was so afraid of Victorka that he left his place. The girls laughed at him, but what of it! he who runs away wins, and his absence will not keep the grain from growing. We have not missed him.
"There now, Grandma," concluded the gamekeeper, " you have Victorka's whole history, partly as I heard it from the late blacksmith's wife, and partly from her sister Mary. What happened besides, who knows? but she must have had a hard time, and he who carries her ruin upon his conscience has a heavy load!"
Grandma wiped her tear-stained cheeks, and said with a pleasant smile: "I am a thousand times obliged. One must confess that you can relate a story as well as a writer; one could listen and listen and forget that the sun is behind the mountain." Grandmother pointed to the long shadow in the room and began to put up her work.
"Wait a few moments, till I feed the poultry, and I will go with you down the hill," begged the hostess, and Grandmother gladly waited. And I'll escort you down to the bridge, for I must go to the woods yet," said the gamekeeper, rising from the table.
The housekeeper hurried outside and presently there was heard in the yard a loud calling: "Chick, chick, chick!" and the poultry were seen flying from all directions. First came a flock of sparrows as though the call were meant for them. The housewife remarked: "Well, well, you are always the first;" but they acted as though they did not hear her.
Grandmother stood by the door, keeping the children near her lest they should frighten away the poultry which she watched with the greatest delight. And what poultry! White and gray geese with goslings, ducks with ducklings, black Turkish ducks, beautiful chickens of home raising, and long legged Tyrol chickens, top-knotted and with ruffled collars, peacocks, doves, Guinea hens, turkeys with their gobbler, who strutted about and swelled as though he were the lord of all. The whole flock rushed into one heap, each striving to get the largest possible share of the supper. They stepped upon one another's heels, jumped over one another, crawled under and crept through wherever a space could be found; and the sparrows, those vagabonds, when they had their own crops well filled, walked over the backs of the foolish ducks and geese. Not far off sat the rabbits, and a tame squirrel, with its tail over its head like a helmet, looked down upon the children from a chestnut tree. Upon the fence sat the cat, having a longing eye fixed upon the sparrows. The fawn allowed Barunka to scratch its head and the dogs sat quietly near the children, for the housewife held a switch in her hand. Still when the black cock ran after the gosling that had taken his food from his very mouth and the gosling ran near Hector's nose, the dog could not refrain from grabbing at it.
"See that old loon!" cried the housewife, as her switch whizzed about the dog's ears.
Hector was ashamed that he should be thus reproved before his younger companions, and with his head down he crawled into the hall. Grandmother remarked: "Of course the son cannot be better than the father." Hector was the son of Sultan, who killed those beautiful ducklings.
The feeding was over; the poultry went to their roosts. Frank and Bertie gave the children some peacock feathers, the housewife gave Grandmother some Tyrol chickens' eggs for hatching, and taking Nannie in her arms she was ready to accompany them a part of the way. The gamekeeper, throwing his rifle over his shoulder and calling Hector, followed them.
At the foot of the hill, the gamekeeper's wife bade them good night and returned home with the children; at the bridge the gamekeeper shook hands with them and turned to the woods to lie in wait for game. John watched him till he disappeared in the woods, and then said to Barunka: "When I am a little older, I will go with Mr. Beyer; and then I, too, can go out and lie in wait for game."
"Yes, but they would be obliged to send some one with you, for you are afraid of forest women and fiery men," laughed Barunka.
"O, what do you know about it?" frowned John, "when I am older, I shall not be afraid."
Passing the dam, Grandmother noticed the moss-covered stump, and thinking of Victorka, sighed deeply: "Unhappy girl."
- A biscuit with some sauce rolled inside.
- In Bohemia a young woman is a bride from the day of betrothal to the day of marriage.
- Be put in prison or be taken into the army.