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Pan Tadeusz [1834]

Adam Mickiewicz

Translated by Christopher Zakrzewski

Argument: Hunting with greyhounds. A visitor at the castle. The last of the Horeszko retainers tells the tale of his late master. A glance at the garden. A girl among the cucumbers. Breakfast. Telimena's anecdote of Saint Petersburg. A fresh outbreak of hostilities over Bobtail and Falcon. Father Robak's intervention. The Chief Steward's speech. A wager. Let's go mushrooming!

Who among us can forget the days when as growing lads we slung a gun over our shoulder and struck out whistling into the fields? Neither ridge nor fence stood in our way. We cleared a boundary strip and never gave trespassing a thought. In Lithuania the sportsman is like a ship sweeping the seas. He goes wherever, whichever way he pleases. And when he sweeps the heavens with his eye, he is like a prophet reading the omens. No cloud but a host of intelligible signs! With Mother Earth he communes like a sorcerer. City-dwellers she keeps at a silent distance; him she prompts with any number of sounds.

The corncrake rasps in the meadow. Useless to spy him out; he glides through the grass like the Niemen pike. Overhead, from heights equally deep, the hidden skylark peals his vernal matins. Yonder whistles the eagle’s outspread wing, startling the sparrows even as the comet alarms the czars. And there, like a butterfly transfixed by a pin, the hovering hawk beats his wing. Motionless he hangs in the sunlit sky, until, spying a bird or hare in the field below, he drops like a shooting star.

When will the Lord allow us to cease our wanderings and settle once more in our native fields? When at last shall we serve in a cavalry that makes war on the hare; in an infantry that marches on the birds—knowing no battle-gear but the reaping hook and scythe; no newssheets but our household accounts?

The sun had risen over the straw-roofed buildings of the Manor. Already his beams were filtering into the barn. Through fissures in the black thatch, flickering bands of golden light streamed in, flooding the dark-green fragrant hay where the youth had made their beds. As a young lass wakes her sweetheart with an ear of corn, so with his morning rays the sun teased the lips of the sleeping guests. Already the sparrows had begun to frisk and chirp in the rafters. Three times the gander gaggled, and each time a chorus of turkeys and ducks picked up the refrain like an echo. The lowing of driven cattle filled the air. The youth had risen. Only Tadeusz slumbered on. He had been the last to fall asleep. So much had last night’s banquet upset him that the crowing rooster found him still wide awake. At last, after much tossing and turning, he sank deep into his bed, the hay closed over his head like a wave, and he dozed off. Dead to the world he lay. A sudden draft of air caused his eyelids to stir. The creaking barn door swung open with a crash and in came the Bernardine, Robak, swishing his knotted belt. “Surge, puer!” he bellowed, laying the gnarled rope smartly across Tadeusz’s back.

The courtyard rang out with the cries of huntsmen walking their mounts. More hunters were arriving in their carts. Scarcely could the yard compass such a throng. The bugles blared. The kennel gates flew open and out tore the hounds, yelping with joy. Aroused by the sight of the leashes and the huntsmen’s horses, they raced frantically around the yard. But they soon ran up and yielded their collars to the leash—all omens of excellent sport. At last, the Chamberlain gave the order to ride.

Slowly, in single file, the huntsmen moved out. Once past the gate, they quickened their pace and fanned out in a loose formation. In the very center rode the Notary and the Assessor. Despite the baleful glances they exchanged, they spoke in civil tones, like men of honor riding out to settle a deadly quarrel. No one would have sensed the rancor seething in their hearts. The Notary led his Bobtail by the leash, the Assessor his Falcon. Behind them came the ladies, drawn in carriages, while the mounted youth cantered alongside the wheels, engaging the women in light conversation.

Father Robak was slowly pacing the courtyard to and fro, finishing his morning prayers. All the while he cast glances at Tadeusz, now frowning at him, now smiling. At last he beckoned with his finger. Tadeusz rode up; but Robak merely tapped the side of his nose in an ominous manner. No amount of asking and pleading would induce him to make himself clear. The Bernardine refused to answer or so much as favor the lad with a glance. Instead, he drew up his cowl and finished his prayers. With that Tadeusz rode off to rejoin the hunt.

The huntsmen had just checked their hounds. Everyone stood dead in his tracks and was motioning to the other for silence. All eyes were fixed on the Judge who had mounted a rock. He had just spied a hare and was waving directions with his hands. All understood him and kept still, while the Notary and the Assessor advanced at a slow trot toward him. Tadeusz, being closer, outstripped them both, pulled up beside the Judge, and gazed intently out into the field. It was years since he had been out on a hunt. Spying a hare in that grey terrain was a difficult business, especially with all the rocks strewn about. The Judge pointed to the spot. There, huddled against a rock, crouched the poor beast, ears cocked, his red eye returning the hunters’ gaze. Spellbound he sat, sensing his fate, unable to tear his eye away—petrified like the rock itself; and all the while, the cloud of dust in the field drew steadily closer. Bobtail strained furiously at his leash; behind him loped fleet-footed Falcon. Then, with one voice, the Notary and the Assessor hallooed and vanished in a swirl of dust on the heels of their hounds.

At the very moment that the hunters went off in pursuit of the hare, the Count rode out of the castle woods. The whole district knew he was incapable of showing up on time. Once again he had overslept and was surly with his serving men. Seeing the hunters in the field he galloped off to join them. The tails of his white English riding coat flapped freely in the wind. Behind him rode his servants. Every man sported a shiny black mushroom-shaped cap, a short jacket, white pantaloons, and stripe-lined top boots. At the Count’s mansion, the servants so costumed were known as jockeys.

No sooner did the party ride out into the field than the Count spied the castle and drew rein. Never before had he set eyes on the castle at dawn. Surely, he thought, these could not be the same walls! How the light enhanced and refreshed their lines! He marveled at the novel prospect. The turret, rising from the morning mist, appeared twice as high. The tin-sheeted roof glittered like gold. Below shone the shattered casement panes, breaking the morning’s beams into myriad rainbows. The lower floors stood shrouded in mist; hidden from view were the cracks and flaws. Now and then, borne on the wind, the distant halloos of the hunt rebounded off the walls. They seemed to hail from within the castle, as if under the mantle of the mist the walls stood rebuilt and teemed once more with human life. The Count was fond of rare and novel sights. He called them “romantic,” for he confessed to a romantic turn, though in truth he was a prodigious crank. In pursuit of a fox or hare, he had a habit of pulling up sharply and gazing mournfully at the sky as a cat might stare at a sparrow perched high in a pine. Often, like a runaway recruit, he would roam the groves without gun or hound, or sit motionless by a brook and stare down at the stream like a heron that devours the fish with his eye. Such were the Count’s peculiar ways. People thought him a little daft, though they held him in high esteem, for he was wellborn and wealthy, favorably disposed to the peasantry, and friendly to neighbor and Jew alike. Swinging off the path, the Count trotted straight across the field and drew up at the castle gate. Alone at last, he heaved a sigh and gazed at the walls. He had just reached for pencil and paper and begun to sketch the lines, when, glancing aside, he noticed a man standing not twenty yards away. Here was a devotee of scenic prospects like himself, for the fellow was standing with his hands in his pockets, gazing up at the castle walls as if he were counting the very stones. The Count recognized him at once, but was obliged to hail several times before Gerwazy took notice.

Gerwazy was of noble stock, a servant of the former castle owners and the last remaining retainer of the Horeszko clan. He was a tall, grizzled old-timer, with a hale and ruddy face furrowed with wrinkles; his expression was morose and grim. Once famed amongst the nobility for his good cheer, he had soured since the battle in which the last castle heir had died. Long had he stopped attending weddings and annual fairs. Gone were the days when he amused others with his witty jests; no longer did his face break out into smiles.

He wore the old Horeszko livery; a yellow frock coat with cutaway tails, trimmed with galloon that had yellowed with age, though no doubt it had been gold in its day. The entire garment was embroidered in silk with miniatures of the Horeszko crest; hence the name “Half-Goat” by which he was known throughout the district. Sometimes folk called him “Old Boy,” from his habitual use of that familiar address, or again “Scarpate” from the numerous welts that covered his hairless crown. But his real name was Rembajlo (his crest was unknown), and he fostered the title Warden from the post he had always held at the castle. A bundle of iron keys still hung from his sash by a silver-tasseled cord. True, there was nothing to lock, for the castle hallway gaped open; but he found two doors, repaired and hung them at his own expense, and then amused himself twice daily by turning the locks. He had taken up lodgings in an empty chamber of the castle. Although he could quite easily have lived on the Count’s charity, he chose not to; he ailed and repined unless he could breath the castle air.

As soon as Gerwazy noticed the Count, he snatched off his cap and honored the kinsman of his lords with a bow. The sunlight played on his huge polished crown, which countless sword-slashes had gouged like a battle-mace. Stroking it with his hand, he approached the Count and, after bowing profoundly again, addressed him in doleful tones:

“Greetings, old boy! Forgive the address, your lordship; it is my way, you know. No disrespect. All the Horeszkos used to say ‘old boy.’ My master, the late Pantler, said it all the time. Is it true, my boy, you would begrudge a penny for the lawsuit and surrender the castle to Soplica? I should not have believed it, but now everyone is noising it about the countryside.” And gazing at the castle, he heaved a volley of sighs.

“Small wonder!” observed the Count. “The expense is great, and the tedium still greater. I wish the matter were closed, but the tiresome squire has dug in his heels. He knew he would wear me out in the courts. I have had enough. Today I shall lay down my arms and accept whatever terms the court awards.”

“Terms!” Gerwazy exclaimed. “Make terms with Soplica! The Soplicas, old boy?” (He pulled a face, as if the very words confounded him.) “Terms! With a Soplica! Come, my boy; you must be joking, eh? The castle, the hereditary seat of the Horeszkos, pass to Soplica? If you would only dismount and accompany me into the castle, you would see for yourself, sir. You do not know what you are doing. Come! Don’t shrink from me! Dismount!” And he held the stirrup for the Count to dismount.

They entered the castle. Gerwazy halted in the hallway entrance. “This is where the former owners and all their court lounged in their chairs after dinner,” he observed. “Here my master settled disputes among the peasantry. When in good humor, he would amuse his guests with beguiling tales or take pleasure in someone else’s yarn or jest, while out there in the courtyard the youth would play backsword or break in my lord’s Turkish ponies.”

They entered the hallway. Gerwazy resumed: “All the stones of this great paved entrance pale in comparison to the number of wine casks we broached in the good old days. The nobility had only to be summoned to parliament or the councils, or be invited to my master’s name day, or a hunting trip, and they’d be hoisting puncheons from the cellar with their sashes. On banquet nights, a cappella would stand in yonder choir loft and play airs on the organ and sundry instruments. When they gave a rouse, trumpets pealed from the gallery as on Judgment Day. Always the same order of toasts! The first cup we pledged to His Majesty the King, the second to the Primate, the next three to our Queen, the nobility, and the Commonwealth. Then came the sixth and final pledge, ‘Let us love one another! Hurrah!’ That was the toast that never ended. Raised at sundown, it rang forth clear until sunrise, when carriages and carts would be at hand to bear each guest to his inn.”

They strolled through several chambers. Gerwazy walked in silence, arresting his gaze now on the walls, now on the vaulted ceiling. A sad recollection struck him here, a pleasant one there. At times the words “Gone forever!” seemed poised on his lips. He hung his head in sorrow and waved a hand, as if driving away a thought; plainly, the memory of it tormented him. At last they stopped inside a large upper room, the former hall of mirrors. Stripped of their contents, the bare frames still hung on the walls. Paneless windows peered out on the gallery. From there the castle gate stood in plain view. Upon entering the hall, Gerwazy lowered his head and buried it in his hands. When at last he looked up, his face bore a look of intense sorrow and despair.

Unable to divine what all of this meant, the Count felt strangely moved. He stared into the old man’s face and squeezed his hand. For a while they stood silent together. At length, raising a trembling fist, Gerwazy broke the silence.

“No terms, old boy! There can be no peace between the Soplica and Horeszko families. Surely you know that the blood of Horeszkos runs in your veins. You are kin to the Pantler on your mother’s side. She was wife to the Royal Huntsman, the Castellan’s second daughter. Everyone knows the Castellan was my lord’s uncle by marriage. Now listen to this tale of your kith and kin, for it all happened right here in this castle, in this very hall.

“My late-lamented lord was the highest dignitary in the district. Wealthy and a man of family, he had an only child, a daughter—the very picture of an angel. Noblemen, great and small, wooed her by the score. Among the minor nobility there was a brawling troublemaker named Jacek Soplica, whom folks jokingly called ‘Governor.’ To be sure, he had clout in the district, for with the entire Soplica clan bent to his will, he could easily rely on three hundred votes; yet all he owned was a few acres of farmland, a sword, and a prodigious pair of whiskers that joined ear to ear. The Pantler often invited this mischief-maker to dine with him at the castle, especially during the district councils, for my lord’s kinsmen and supporters found Soplica pleasant enough to deal with. But their kind treatment of him soon went to his head; so much so, that he began to entertain thoughts of wedding the Pantler’s daughter. More and more he imposed himself on the castle; before long he had settled in like one of the family. He was all ready to pop the question, when they got wind of it and served him a bowl of black soup at the table. It seems the daughter had been sweet on him all along, but hadn’t breathed a word of it to her parents.

“Those were the Kosciuszko days. My master declared himself for the Constitution of May Third. He was mustering the nobility for the Confederate cause, when suddenly one night the Muscovites encircled the castle. We had barely time to bolt the lower doors and sound the alarm with a mortar shot. But for the Pantler and his wife, the cook and his two helpers (dead drunk, all three of them), the parish priest, the footman, four stouthearted Haiduks, and myself, the castle stood unmanned. So we grab our guns and take to the windows. At last with a ‘huzzah!’ the Muscovites burst in through the gate and swarm across the terrace. We reply with ten muskets: ‘Back, you sons—!’ You couldn’t see a thing outside. The servants kept firing from the lower floors. My lord and I sniped from the gallery.

“All was going great guns, though I’ll not deny we stood in mortal peril. Twenty muskets lay right here on this very floor. We’d fired one, and they’d pass us another. In this, the parish priest gave a good account of himself, as did the Pantler’s wife, his daughter, and her lady companions. We were but three sharpshooters, but our firing never faltered. The Russian infantry rained a hail of lead on us from below. Our firepower was weaker, but we had height in our favor, and our aim was better. Three times the muzhiks pressed up to the doors and each time three of them fell to the ground; so they leg it to the lumber house. Meanwhile, it was growing light. Blithely, gun in hand, the Pantler steps out into the gallery. The instant Ivan shows his head from behind the lumber house, my master lets him have it; and every time (for his aim was spot-on) another black shako tumbles to the grass. Soon they were loath to venture out.

“Seeing them in disarray, the Pantler decided to mount a sally. He seized his saber, barked orders to the servants below, then, turning to me, yelled, “Come, Gerwazy, follow me!” At that moment a shot rang out from the gate. He reeled, went red in the face, and then turned ghastly pale. He tried to speak—and spat up blood. It was then I noticed the ball. It had gone clean through his chest. He staggered and pointed to the gate. It was that knave—Soplica! Aye, I knew him by his build and whiskers. It was his shot that felled my lord; with these very eyes I saw him! There he stood, musket raised, smoke still rising from the barrel. I put a bead on him; the cutthroat never moved. Two guns I fired at him, and twice I missed. Rage—or was it grief?—hampered my aim. The women screamed. I turned and looked. My lord lay dead.” Here Gerwazy stopped and burst into tears. Moments later he ended his tale.

“By now the Muscovites were breaking down the doors. With my lord Pantler dead, I stood there, stunned, heedless of what was going on around me. Fortunately, Parafianowicz came to the rescue in the nick of time. With him came two hundred Mickiewicz-folk from Horbatowicz, a large clan, stouthearted to a man, long-time sworn foes of Soplica.

“So perished my mighty lord, a pious, upstanding man, whose house boasted a senator’s chair, ribboned orders, and a mace of honor. Although he was father to the peasants, and a brother to the nobility, he had no sons to swear vengeance at his grave. Aye, but he had a trusty servant! I dipped my blade in his blood—my rapier called Penknife. (You must have heard of my sword; it used to be the talk of every parliament, district council, and annual fair.) I vowed to notch it on every Soplica neck that presented itself. I sought them out at every session of parliament, every bazaar, on every foray I took part in. Two of them I hacked down in a brawl, another two in a duel; still another I burned alive in a wooden shack during the raid on Korelicze with Rymsza. We broiled him there like a loach. Those whose ears I lopped off do not enter into the reckoning. One Soplica has yet to receive a token from me. I refer to the born brother of that whiskered knave! He still lives and takes pride in his wealth. His land abuts on the castle walls. He enjoys the respect of the district, holds a post—the Judge’s bench. And to him you would hand the castle? Allow his impious feet to wipe the Pantler’s blood from these boards? No, not while I live! So long as Gerwazy has an ounce of courage in his veins and strength to match, so long as with one little finger he can wield his Penknife, which hangs even now on the wall, Soplica shall never take possession of the castle!”

“Ah!” exclaimed the Count, raising his arms. “What a good premonition I had to fall in love with these ruins! I had not realized all the treasures they contained. So many dramatic scenes! So many tales to relate! Gerwazy! When I reclaim the castle of my fathers, I shall appoint you burgrave of these walls. Your tale has stirred me deeply. But what a pity you did not bring me here at the midnight hour. Amidst these ruins I should have sat draped in my cloak, while you held me rapt with tales of murderous deeds! Pity you lack skill in weaving yarns, for I have often heard and read of such happenings. Every lord’s castle in England and Scotland has been the scene of killings. Murder stalks the palace of every German count. Every great and ancient family tells its tale of treachery and bloodshed, whence vengeance devolves on the heirs; and now for the first time I hear of such a case in Poland. Yes, I feel stouthearted Horeszko blood in my veins. I know my debt to glory and my kin. So be it! I shall break off all parley with Soplica, even if it should come to pistols or the blade. Honor demands it!”

Saying this, he marched solemnly off. Gerwazy followed him in silence. Still muttering to himself, the Count stopped at the gate. At last, after casting another backward glance at the castle, he leapt on his horse and ended his desultory monologue.

“What a pity Judge Soplica has no spouse or comely daughter with qualities arousing my deepest admiration. Loving her, yet forlorn of the hope of seeking her hand. There’s a fresh strand to thicken the plot! True love on one hand, bounden duty on the other! Vengeance here, there—affection!” So saying, he dug in his spurs and sped off toward the manor. Just then, the hunt rode out from the far side of the forest. Now the Count was a keen hunter; no sooner did he spot the riders than all preceding thoughts went by the board. Off he flew to meet the riders. On past the gate, the garden, and railings, he rode. Rounding a bend, he glanced aside and drew up by the fence. Here stood an orchard.

Rows of fruit trees spread their shade over a sprawling field; below lay the garden beds. Here, brooding on the fate of his fellow vegetables, the august cabbage bent his tonsured head. Yonder the slim broad bean wrapped his pods around the carrot’s green tresses; with a thousand eyes he gazed upon his beloved. Here waved the maize her golden tassels. Hither and yon, a good rolling distance from his parent stem, sat a stout round-bellied watermelon—a guest among the crimson beets. Each bed was circumscribed by a ridge, and mounting guard along each trench stood the hemp—the cypress of the kitchen garden: silent, straight, and green. Its pungent leafage afforded the beds a line of defense. No serpent dared to breast those leaves. Their scent was lethal to caterpillar and insect alike. In the beds beyond a host of poppies lofted their whitish stalks. Upon each of these stalks there seemed to rest a butterfly with trembling wings that shimmered like precious stones. Even so did the polychrome of poppies beguile the eye; and in their midst, like a full moon among the stars, the sunflower turned his great fiery disk from east to west.

Along the fence ran a row of long and narrow mounds where neither fruit-tree, nor shrub, nor flower grew. Here lay the cucumber patch—grown to splendor. A rippling broadloom of leaves overspread the beds; and in the very center stood a girl in a white dress. The luxuriant vegetation came up over her knees. On stepping down into the furrows, she seemed to swim rather than walk—to bathe in that verdant leafage. A straw hat covered her head. Two pink ribbons and a lock of flaxen hair fluttered at her temples; and crooked upon her elbow was an osier basket. Her eyes looked down; her right hand was raised. As a bathing girl bends down to drive away the minnows nibbling at her feet, so, basket in arm, she stooped to pluck up a fruit that grazed her foot or caught her eye.

Delighted by this wondrous sight, the Count stood perfectly still. Hearing his companions ride up from behind, he made signs for them to stop; they drew rein. He resumed his watch, cranking his neck. Even so, set apart from his flock, the long-billed crane waits in ambush. On one leg he stands, eyes alert, a stone gripped in his claw to ward off sleep.

A sudden lash across the head and shoulders roused the Count from his reverie. It was the Bernardine alms collector, Robak, laying into him with his knotted belt.

“So, it is cucumbers you want, eh? I’ll give you cucumbers!” he said. “Oh, beware, my lordship, this fruit is not for you. You can expect nothing here!” And waving a threatening finger, he arranged his cowl and stalked off.

The Count lingered on, laughing and cursing at this unexpected intrusion. He turned his gaze to the garden, but the girl had vanished. He looked around only to catch a glimpse of a pink ribbon and a white dress disappearing into the window. He saw the path she had cut through the beds. The leafage still swayed where her foot had brushed it. Like water ruffled by a swallow’s wing, it trembled for an instant longer and then grew still. All that remained on the spot where she had stood was the little osier basket. There it lay abandoned, overturned, swaying upon that sea of greenery, its cargo of fruit gone to the bottom.

A moment later all was still and quiet again. The Count fixed his gaze on the house and strained to listen. He mused on; and all the while his riders stood motionless behind him. At last, the quiet, deserted house began to stir with sounds: murmurs at first, then audible talk, followed by boisterous shouts. Even so the hive hums back to life with the entrance of the swarm. The hunting party was returning home and the servants were bestirring themselves with breakfast.

A great flutter of movement filled the rooms of the house. Servants fetched out the viands, silverware, and bottles. The men ate and drank as they were, in their green shooting coats. Plate and goblet in hand, they sauntered from room to room, leaned against the windows, and held forth on hounds, hares, and sporting guns. The Chamberlain and his wife sat with the Judge; the young women sat whispering in the corner. No standing on ceremony here as at luncheon or dinner—rather a novelty for an old-fashioned Polish household. By no means happy with this want of order, the Judge put up with it at breakfast-time.

An array of dishes lay spread on the table for both the ladies and the gentlemen. Trays with a complete coffee service come whisking out—enormous trays, handsomely painted with floral motifs. Each bore a fragrantly steaming coffeepot made of tin, a set of gilded cups of Saxon porcelain, and a dainty cream-jug.

No country boasts better coffee than ours. Ancient custom requires every good Polish family to employ a special maid charged with the task of brewing the coffee. To obtain beans of the finest quality she must shop in the city or visit the trading barges. She alone has been entrusted with the secrets of its preparation. The beverage must have the hue of coal, the clarity of amber, the pungency of mocha, and the thickness of honey. As to the most suitable cream, this is common knowledge, for it is easily obtained in the country. First thing in the morning, the maid sets the pots on the stove to steep, then proceeds to the dairy. After skimming off the choicest cream, she apportions it into the little jugs, one for each setting. Every cup must wear its own delicate crown of skin.

The elder women, having risen earlier and already taken their coffee, treated themselves to another beverage: mulled ale, whitened with cream and swirling with cheese curds. An assortment of cold cuts lay prepared for the men: succulent goose-breast, sliced ham and ox-tongue, all of exquisite quality, home-cured and smoked in juniper. Last of all, they brought in the crowning course—stuffed beef collops. Such was the hearty breakfast served at the Judge’s house.

The company grouped in two adjoining rooms. The elders sat around a small table, discussing the latest farming methods and the Emperor’s increasingly more repressive decrees. The Chamberlain appraised the current rumors of war and drew his conclusions. The Chief Steward’s daughter, wearing a pair of dark-blue glasses, sat with the Chamberlain’s wife and read her fortune with a deck of tarot cards. In the other room sat the youth. Here talk ran on the chase, but without the usual strife and noise. The Notary and the Assessor, both of them first-rate talkers, able hunters, and expert marksmen, sat sullenly silent opposite each other. The two had put up a good chase. Each felt certain of victory, when, on a level stretch, they happened upon a peasant’s plot of uncut grain. The hare nipped right in, and there Bobtail and Falcon held him. But then the Judge caught up with them and drew rein at the boundary mark. Enraged, the men had no choice but to call off the hunt. The hounds emerged without their quarry. No one could say for sure if the hare escaped their jaws or was taken, if he had fallen to Bobtail, or Falcon, or both. Opinions diverged, and so the dispute raged on.

All this time, gazing absent-mindedly from side to side, the old Steward made his way through the adjoining rooms. He took no interest in the hunters’ or elders’ talk. He was busy with other matters. Leather flapper in hand, he stopped here and there, reflected a while, and then plastered a fly to the wall.

Tadeusz and Telimena stood alone in the connecting doorway. They spoke quietly, for the two groups of guests were not far apart. Only now did Tadeusz learn that his Auntie Telimena was a well-to-do lady; that canonically they were not too closely related; that, in fact, it was doubtful she bore any relation to him at all, even though his uncle was in the habit of calling her sister (mutual kin of theirs used to refer to them in this way, despite their disparity in years); finally, that Auntie Telimena had lived a good while in Saint Petersburg and there rendered the Judge immeasurable services. For this reason, the Judge held her in high regard and was pleased in public—out of vanity perhaps—to refer to himself as her brother; to which, for friendship’s sake, Telimena raised no objection. All of this came as a relief to Tadeusz. A great many other things were confided between them; and all of this took place in one short moment.

Meanwhile, in the room off to the couple’s right, the Notary was doing his best to bait the Assessor. “I told you yesterday that the hunt would come to a lame conclusion,” he remarked. “It is much too early yet, with grain still standing and so many peasants’ plots lying unharvested. That is why the Count would not join us on the chase, despite the invitation. He knows a great deal about hunting, likes to discuss it, and has ready views on the time and place to hunt. Raised abroad from childhood, the Count claims it is barbarous to hunt as we do—without regard for the law and ministry regulations. We show scant respect for other peoples’ boundary marks or parcels and ride roughshod over private land without the owner’s knowledge. Spring or summer, we charge through field and forest, dispatch the fox in molting season, and suffer our dogs to hound—or rather torment—the doe in the winter grain, when she is great with kittens. All this does great harm to our game. Though it pains the Count to admit it, the Muscovite enjoys more culture than we do. At least in Russia, the hunter must answer to the Czar’s decrees, suffer police surveillance, and pay the price when caught.”

Telimena was facing the room on the left, fanning her shoulders with a cambric handkerchief. “So help me,” she observed, “the Count has a point. I know Russia well. You refused to believe me when I insisted that her stern vigilance was laudable in its way; but I have been to Saint Petersburg; and not just once or twice! Sweet memories! Charming, bygone times! What a city! Has none of you been to Petersburg? I shall show you a plan if you like. I always keep one in my escritoire.

“Every summer, Petersburg’s society leaves the city for the dacha—a summer residence (dacha is their word for village). I lived in such a summerhouse. It stood on a man-made knoll overlooking the river Neva at an ideal distance from town. Ah, what a house it was! I still have a plan in my escritoire. Anyhow, to my great misfortune, a minor police functionary leased the house next door. He kept a number of wolfhounds. You have no idea what a torment it is to have a petty clerk and a pack of hounds live next door. I would no sooner step out with my book into the garden to enjoy the moon and the evening air than one of these hounds would fly up with his tail swishing and ears pricked up like some lunatic. I often took fright. In my heart I knew that grief would come from those dogs; and that is exactly what happened.

“I had just stepped out one morning, when at my very feet one of these hounds throttled the life out of my dear sweet lapdog. Oh, what a darling she was! I had received her as a token from Prince Sukin himself! A clever little thing. Quick as a squirrel. I would show you a picture only it would mean a trip to my escritoire. The shock of seeing her lifeless before me brought on fainting spells, muscular spasms, and heart palpitations.

“My health might have taken still worse a turn, if the Master of the Imperial Hunt, Kiril Gavrilich Kozodusin, had not dropped in for a visit. On learning the cause of my grief, he had the clerk dragged in by the ear. There stood the hapless wretch, pale and trembling, almost lifeless. ‘You dare—thundered Kiril Gavrilich—to hunt a laden hind in the spring, and under the Czar’s very nose!’ In vain the stupefied clerk swore that he hadn’t been out on a hunt; and that, if it pleased His Excellency, the quarry was a dog, not a doe. ‘What! — roared Kiril Gavrilich — you scoundrel! You presume to know more about the chase and game than I, Kozodusin, the Czar’s Jaegermeister? Let the Chief of Police judge between us!” They summoned the Chief of Police and launched an official inquiry. ‘I—testified Kozodusin—swear he was stalking a hind; this blitherer says it was a lapdog. Now you judge between us. Who’s better in the know?’

“The Chief of Police knew his duty. Aghast at the clerk’s sauciness, he took him aside and urged him in brotherly fashion to make a clean breast of it. Thus appeased, the Master Huntsman agreed to put in a word and have the clerk’s sentence lightened. And that was that. The hounds were strung up. The clerk spent a month in the clink. This little incident kept us in stitches the entire evening. By the following day, it was the talk of the town. The Jaegermeister had interposed on behalf of my lapdog; and I know for a fact the incident drew a hearty guffaw from the Czar himself.”

Laughter rang out in both rooms. All this time the Judge had been engaged in a round of marriage with the Bernardine. When Telimena began her anecdote, he had been on the point of playing his trump and the priest was holding his breath. Listening with rapt attention, his head thrown back, card poised for the casting, he heard out the tale, while the priest waited in the direst suspense. Finally, the story told, the Judge threw down his queen of spades and remarked with a laugh:

“If people feel like praising the German for his culture and the Muscovite for his law and order—let them! If Great Poland wants to learn from the Swabians how to litigate over a fox or have a hound arrested by the police for trespassing on someone’s spinney—by all means, I say. But thank God we in Lithuania stand on our old ways. We have plenty of game to go around. You will never see us launching police inquiries over such trifles. There is no shortage of grain here. No one starves if a dog goes bounding through our spring corn and rye; all the same, I draw the line at the peasant’s balk.”

“Small wonder, sir,” piped up the overseer from the other room, “for you pay through the nose for such game. Our rustics rub their hands at the sight of a hound tearing through their fields. A dozen shaken ears of rye and you compensate them with a haycock; and even then, it’s not quits. Often they receive a thaler as a bonus. Believe me, sir; our peasantry’s getting saucy. If only—”

The Judge never heard the rest of the overseer’s remarks. Their discourse had sparked a dozen more exchanges, anecdotes, tales, and, finally, quarrels.

Entirely forgotten in the fray, Tadeusz and Telimena had eyes only for each other. Telimena was pleased to see Tadeusz so amused by her humorous anecdote. The youth, in turn, plied her with compliments. Telimena’s speech grew slower and quieter. With all the noise around them, Tadeusz pretended not to hear and whispered back. By now he had drawn so close to that delightful face that he could feel the pleasant warmth of the temples. He held his breath. His lips caught the whiff of her mouth, his glance seized on every sparkle in her eye—when suddenly there flashed between them first a fly then the flap of the Steward’s swatter.

Lithuania swarms with flies. Among them thrives a species of housefly known as the noble. Except for his broader thorax and larger abdomen, he resembles every other fly in color and shape. When airborne, he drones and bombilates intolerably, and he is strong enough to fly through a spider’s web. When caught in the toils, he will buzz for three days on end, for he is perfectly capable of wrestling the spider down. All this, the Steward had had occasion to observe. More than this, he claimed it was from these very flies that the smaller folk sprang. The noble, he claimed, was to the common fly what the queen was to the swarm; its extinction meant the end of the entire strain. Needless to say, neither the housekeeper nor the village curate gave his hypothesis the time of day. They held to other views on the genesis of the fly. But the Steward held fast to tradition; no sooner would he spot such a fly, than off he would go after it.

Precisely one of these nobles had droned past his ear. Twice he flailed and—heavens!—missed. He swung a third time and all but took out the window. Addled by this commotion, the fly spied two figures cutting off his retreat through the doorway. In desperation he hurled himself between their heads, and right behind him came the swish of the Steward’s arm. So lustily did he swing, that the two heads started back like two halves of a bolt-cloven tree. Both heads struck a bruising blow against the doorposts.

Fortunately, no one noticed the incident, for what had passed in the far room for polite if loud and lively conversation was building up to an explosive crescendo. When foxhunters deployed in an extended line enter the forest, you hear the occasional cracking of branches, random gunshots, and yelping of hounds. But when one of the hunters chances to spring a wild boar, he sets in motion a general hue and cry so tumultuous that all the trees of the forest seem to give tongue. So it is with conversation: talk moves along at a leisurely pace until it stumbles on an engaging topic—like a boar. The boar on this occasion was the Notary and Assessor’s fierce dispute over their famous hounds. The quarrel had not lasted long, but the two men had covered a great deal of ground. Together they fired off such a volley of words and invectives that the three normal stages of a quarrel had already run their course. Exhausted was their supply of taunts, angry rebuttals, and bluster; they were on the point of blows.

The guests in the other room leapt to their feet and surged like a wave through the doorway, sweeping aside the young couple presiding there like bi-fronted Janus of the threshold.

Before either Tadeusz or Telimena could smooth their ruffled hair, the ominous noises had died down. Murmurs and laughter rippled through the crowd. A truce had been declared—brokered by the Bernardine himself, for despite his age, he was a sturdy broad-shouldered fellow. No sooner had the Assessor dashed up to the Notary, and the two were squaring up, than the priest seized them both by the back of the collar, cracked their heads together like a pair of Easter eggs and, spreading his arms like fingerposts, flung them to opposite corners of the room. For a moment he stood there, arms spread wide, repeating, “Pax, pax, pax vobiscum! Peace be with you!”

The two sides were amazed; some even laughed. Out of respect for a man of the cloth no one dared to rebuke the monk; nor, after such a display of strength, did anyone feel equal to challenging him. But now that he had restored peace to the guests, it was clear the alms-collector had no interest in proving his prowess. Without further threat to the brawlers, without so much as a snort of anger, he arranged his cowl and, thrusting his hands under his belt, quietly took his leave.

Meanwhile, the Judge and the Chamberlain interposed themselves between the two sides. Roused from his deep meditation, the Chief Steward stepped up and eyed the throng fiercely. Even as a priest waves his sprinkler, so he brandished his leather fly-flap, bidding silence wherever a murmur arose. At last, raising the flapper solemnly like a marshal’s mace, he called them to order.

“Becalm yourselves!” he repeated. “Have a care, you foremost hunters of our district. Where will this unseemly quarrel go? Have you any idea? So this is our youth, the hope of our nation—the ones supposed to bring fame to our forests and woods. Alas! They so dishonor the hunt one wonders what rash impulse will take them next. The very ones we count on to set an example bring home nothing but squabbles and strife! You might also show regard for my silver hair, for I knew sportsmen greater than you. Often they would ask me to mediate between them. Who in Lithuania’s forests could measure up to Rejtan? And when it came to deploying beaters or facing wild game, who was fit to hold a candle to our Jerzy Bialopiotrowicz? Show me a marksman today of the caliber of noble Zegota. He could snipe a running hare with a mere pistol! I knew Terajewicz; he never hunted a boar with anything but a pike. And Budrewicz! Why, he liked to wrestle down a bear with his own two hands. Such were the men that our forests once knew. And as for quarrels, how did they settle their differences? Well, they would call on arbiters and lay their stakes. Oginski forfeited two thousand hectares of forestland over a wolf. A badger once cost Niesiolowski whole villages—several of them! So, gentlemen, take after your elders and settle your score; only place more modest stakes, for words are empty wind and there is no end to verbal disputes. Pointless to waste one’s breath over a hare! Choose your arbiters and yield in good faith to their verdict. For my part, I shall entreat the Judge to lay no ban on any patch of standing corn. I trust he will grant us this favor.” And saying this, the Steward squeezed the Judge’s knee.

“A horse!” shouted the Notary. “I shall stake my horse and harness; more than that, I shall swear an affidavit before the court and pledge this ring to our referee as payment.”

“And I” said the Assessor, “shall wager my gold dog collars and silk-woven leash. The collars are lined with lizard skin and pierced with golden rings. As to the leash, the finest craftsmanship went into its making—matched only by the quality of the precious stone that adorns it. I had intended to leave these articles to my children, if I should ever marry. They were the gift of Prince Dominic the day he, Marshal Sanguszko, General Mejen, and I went on a hunt together, and I set my hounds against theirs. There, unprecedented in the annals of the hunt, I bagged six hare with one bitch. We had been hunting on Kupisko Field. The Prince, unable to restrain himself, leapt from his horse, clasped my famous Kestrel by the neck and, after kissing her three times on the head and patting her thrice on the snout, declared, ‘Henceforth you shall be called Queen of Kupisko!’ Even so Napoleon confers princedoms upon his marshals on the spot where they have just scored a crushing victory.”

But by now Telimena had grown weary of this protracted wrangling. She longed for a breath of air outside, but needed a companion. “Gentlemen,” she observed, taking a basket off the peg. “I see you intend to stay cooped up inside. As for me, I have a mind for mushrooming. Who cares to, may follow me.”

With that, she draped her head in a shawl of red cashmere, took the Chamberlain’s youngest daughter by the hand and, gathering up her skirts above the ankles, walked out. Without a word, Tadeusz hastened away after her.

The proposal of an outing delighted the Judge. Here was a way to clear the air. “Gentlemen!” he announced. “To the woods, for mushrooms! Whoever graces our table with the finest milk-cap shall sit by the loveliest young lady. I shall appoint her myself; and should a lady find one, the pick of our boys shall be hers.

Back to the September 2008 Issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 12/5/08