First hostile steps of the foray - Protazy's expedition - Worm and the Judge deliberate matters of state - Continuation of Protazy's fruitless expedition - A digression on the subject of hemp - The settlement of Dobrzyn - A description of Maciek Dobrzynski's homestead and person
From its moist gloom, unnoticed, at last dawn stole by,
Leading day in, no blush and no gleam in its eye.
It's been day for some time, but it does not seem such.
Fog still covers the land, as there hangs a straw thatch
On a poor Litwan's cottage; and looking out east,
One can tell from the rim where the light has increased,
The sun's risen indeed, and will step to the ground,
But moves joylessly, nodding still on its way down.
Taking cue from the heavens all also was late
On earth, pasture-bent cattle delayed at the gate,
Catching hares at late breakfast: it gave them a fright;
These are used to returning to woods at first light;
Today, by the mist covered, crunch chick-weed; some hares
Dig burrows in the pasture and, keeping in pairs
Might enjoy in the open a nice interlude-
But with coming of cows must return to the wood.
Hushed is the wood. The wakened bird does not yet sing,
Shakes the dew from its feathers, tight to its tree clings,
Tucks its head in its down, and half-closes its eyes
And waits for the sun. Somewhere, at puddle's edge, cries
Clacking stork; on a haystack drenched crows, huddling, sit,
Beaks wide open, hold lengthy discussions on it,
To the farmers obnoxious as omens of rain.
The farm-hands have long been at their labours again.
Women reapers already begin their sad song,
As moist day gloomy, yearning, monotonous, long,
Sadder still, as no echo comes back in the moist;
In the field sound the sickles, the meadow gives voice;
The serried reapers scything the manifold grain
Whistle songs and, when ending each plaintive refrain,
Stop to sharpen the blades in a percussive chain.
All are hid in the fog, only scythes, sickles, and
Songs are heard, like the music of some hidden band.
In their midst, on a sheaf, sits the Steward, and sighs;
Turns his head here and there, bored; for work has no eyes,
At the main road casts glances, or at the cross-road,
Along which some unusual activities show.
Both the main and side roads from the day's very start
Are in unwonted motion; a countryman's cart,
Like the post flying, rumbles; a britzka speeds, spurred
To full gallop, and passes a second and third;
From one side, like a courier, a messenger courses,
From the right hand there canter some several horses,
Each his different path follows, it's beyond belief!
What means all this? The Steward gets up from his sheaf,
To look closer, inquire; he stands long in the way,
Vainly calling out, cannot get any to stay,
Nor, in the mist, know any. Like ghosts, they pass by,
He hears drumming of hoof beats, before they too die,
And, what is even stranger, the clanking of arms:
This both pleases the Steward-and also alarms.
For though then Lithuania was peaceful, no doubt,
About war long have rumours been bandied about,
Of Dabrowski, Napoleon, the French, more than once!
And are these war's precursors? These riders? These guns?
To the Judge ran the Steward, these strange things to tell,
And expecting he'd also learn something as well.
In Soplicowo after last night's bitter brawl
Hosts and guests both awoke out of sorts, and glum all.
Vainly the Tribune's daughter 'tell fortunes' suggests,
Cards for 'marriage' are vainly set out for male guests.
None will play, but in corners keep quietly sitting,
Men, with pipes lit, the women bent over their knitting;
Even flies sleep.
The Tribune, fly-swat tossed away,
Peeved by silence, withdraws to the servants' domain.
In the kitchen would rather hear housekeeper's cries,
The cook's threats and blows, cookboys' vociferous replies;
Until slowly lulled into a calm reverie
By roast joints on spits turning monotonously.
The Judge, shut in his room, much since morning has written;
Waits the Usher, since dawn, on a window bench sitting;
The Judge, his summons writ, gives the Usher a shout,
And his plaint 'gainst the Count he in loud voice reads out:
For injury to honour, insulting words uttering,
And the plaint 'gainst Gerwazy, for mayhem and battery;
For menaces against both; the costs of the action
To be paid by the authors of this great infraction.
Protazy must in person the summons now bear
Before sunrise. The Usher, with dignified air,
Stretched out ear and hand when he the summons had sighted;
Solemn stood, but for joy could have jumped, so delighted.
At the mere thought of lawsuits his old back unbent,
He recalled, when with summons he once would be sent
To receive knocks, but also a generous pay.
Thus a soldier, his life spent in fracas and fray,
And in veterans' hospice, disabled, now found,
Let him but hear a trumpet or drumbeat resound,
Starts he from his bed crying: "At Moscow, advance!"
And will straight from his sick-bed on wooden leg prance
With such speed, young men cannot keep up in pursuit.
Protazy sped to put on his old usher's suit:
Though not tunic nor kontusz would this time put on,
For a courtroom show only such fine dress he'd don;
For travel a garb different: capacious, broad breeches
And a jerkin with tails that he to his belt hitches;
It can thus be worn shortened or left free to swing;
And a cap, ear-flaps tied on its top with a string,
Which are raised in fine weather, let down when it's rough.
Thus clad, took up his cudgel and on foot set off,
For ushers before law-suits, and spies when wars loom,
Go concealed under various disguise and costume.
It was well that Protazy so promptly had acted,
Or small joy from this summons he would have extracted.
In Soplicowo changed were the plans of campaign;
Worm accosted the Judge in a quite thoughtful vein,
Said he: "Judge, we'll have worries with this Auntie yet,
With this your Telimena, that giddy coquette.
When Zosia was a child, in a poor situation,
Jacek trusted this 'auntie' with her education,
Reputed decent, knowing much of worldly matters;
But I now see she's starting to muddy the waters,
She is plotting, and tries our Tadeusz to tame,
I've watched her; she may also the Count have in aim,
Or, both maybe; so somehow we means should contrive
To be rid of her, on such much gossip may thrive,
Bad example, among youth may cause altercations,
Which may threaten your suit and your negotiations",
"Negotiations?" shouted the Judge, with much heat,
"Finis to negotiations, it's over, finit!"
"What's this now?" Worm cut in, "where's the reason, the sense?
What on earth are you babbling, what new violence?"
"Not through my fault," the Judge said, "the court will show all:
The Count, this puffed-up idiot, is cause of this brawl,
And Gerwazy, the court now shall deal with the rascal.
Pity, Father, you came not to sup at the castle,
For you then would have witnessed the Count's brazen doings."
"Why did you, sir", Worm cried out, "crawl into these ruins?
You know I hate the castle! From now in that quad
I'll not set foot. A fresh brawl! A judgement of God!
What's the story? To fix this I must know the facts,
I am sick of observing these fatuous acts,
I have more things to do than make hotheads agree,
But I'll make peace one last time."-"Peace? Fiddle-de-dee!
Go to hell with your wretched peace-making, what bunk!"
Thus the Judge, cut in, stamping his foot, "drat the monk!
Because made welcome here, he'd lead me by the nose!
Sir, I tell you, Soplicas are not among those
Who settle; if sued, must win; one man's litigation
May drag on till it's won in the sixth generation.
I've done follies enough, due to your, sir, advice
In the Chamberlain's Court suing, not once, twice, but thrice.
From today, no agreements: no, no, not one more!"
(And he paced the room shouting, feet stamping the floor).
"Besides, for his discourteous behaviour, the fool
Must apologise now, or, there will be a duel!"
"But, Judge, what about Jacek, when this is disclosed,
He will die of despair! Have Soplicas not caused
Enough harm in this castle! Enough to lament!
Brother! I will not mention that dreadful event.
You well know, that a part of the castle's enclave
Targowica took and to Soplicas then gave.
Jacek, his sin repenting, to gain absolution,
Had to vow to effect a complete restitution.
So he took our young Zosia, Horeszkos' poor heir,
To bring up, and paid much for her schooling and care.
Wished to match his Tadeusz with her as his bride,
Thus these two hostile houses through love make allied,
And, no shame, to the heiress past plunders restore."
"What do you now", the Judge cried, "tell me all this for?
Jacek I know not, nor saw, and hardly a word
About his old rumbustious and brawling life heard,
At the Jesuits' school did my stint at that stage,
Later, I at the Voivode's have served as his page.
I was told to take land-good; to take Zosia-fine,
I took, nurtured, her future hold always in mind;
All this old women's history to tears bores me here!
And why, out of the woodwork, did this Count appear?
Ten degrees to Horeszkos has of separation
With what right to the castle? He's no near relation!
He insults me-and I for agreement should plead?"
"Brother!" said the Priest, "there are good reasons indeed:
You recall Jacek first planned his son to enlist
But, instead, left him here: and the cause of all this?
Because he to our country more use will be here.
You have surely heard what's now discussed everywhere,
And of which news some snippets I sometimes let fall:
The right hour has now struck! It is time to tell all!
Great things are afoot, brother! War, war, is in train!
War for Poland! O brother, we'll Poles be again!
War, certain! When, with secret commission endued,
I sped here, the first vanguards on Niemen's bank stood;
An enormous new army Napoleon assembles
Such as no man has seen, at which history trembles:
With the French comes the Polish entire army's might,
Our Józef, our Dabrowski, and our eagles white!
They are on their way; will at Napoleon's one word
Cross the Niemen-and brother: our nation's restored!
The Judge listened, and slowly his glasses let fall,
Gazing hard at the almsman, did not speak at all,
But he sighed very deeply, big tears dimmed his sight...
Grasped the priest by the neck and squeezed with all his might,
"My dear Worm", he cried out, "but, is this really true
My dear Worm!" he repeated, "is this really true?
We so often were cheated! You know how they prated,
That Napoleon's coming! And we, we just waited;
They said: he's in the Kingdom! The Prussians he's gored!
He is coming! And he?-signed the Tilsit Accord!
So, is this true now? Not just by hope fooled again?"
"True, true", cried out Worm, "true, as there's God above men!"
"Blessed forever be lips that such thing prophesy!"
Said the Judge, his hands raising in joy to the sky.
"Worm, your embassy to us you will not regret,
Nor will your house: two hundred choice sheep you will get
For your monastery. Father was struck yesterday
With my chestnut, and also gave praise to the bay,
They at your almsman's wagon today will be prancing;
Today ask, and you'll have it, whatever you fancy,
I'll not grudge! But concerning this thing with that rude
Count, just leave it, he wronged me, and so I have sued,
Let it be!"
The priest lifted his hands up amazed,
And then, shrugging his shoulders, he at the Judge gazed:
"So, when our land Napoleon to freedom invites,
When the world trembles, you can still think of your rights?
After what I just told you, you can without qualms
Sit here peaceful and quiet, just folding your arms?
When it's deeds we need!"-"What deeds?" the Judge asked, perplexed.
"You've not guessed", said Worm, "nor in my eyes read the text?
If your heart says naught, brother, it is a sad blow!
Should a drop of Soplica blood in your veins flow,
Just attend: if the French from the front now attack,
What if there is a general uprising at back?
What d'you think? If Pursuit neighs, if loud roars the Bear
Of Samogitia! If but a thousand men dare,
Or just five hundred would from the rear pour some lead,
The uprising, like wildfire, would everywhere spread,
And when we, having captured the Russ flags and guns,
Victors, our country's saviours to welcome advance?
We march! Napoleon, seeing those lances emergent,
Asks 'what troops are these?' and we cry boldly: 'Insurgents!
Glorious Emperor! Litwans we are, volunteers!'
'And who leads you?' he asks, 'Judge Soplica!'-all sneers
Among mankind are silenced, that stain disappears!
Brother, while stand Ponary and Niemen does flow,
So long shall in this country Soplicas' name glow;
The city of Jagiellos for ever will be
Pointing to your own grandsons: 'A Soplica, he!
Of Soplicas, who fired the uprising's first shot!'"
Said the Judge: "About men's talk I care not a jot,
I have never tried greatly world's praises to win,
God my witness, I'm guiltless of my brother's sin,
With political issues I've not played around,
Holding office and ploughing my small piece of ground;
But, am of good blood, fain would wipe off this dark blot;
I'm a Pole, for the country would venture somewhat,
My life even. For sword-play I've no great panache,
Though there's some who from me have received the odd slash;
All know, at the last diet, that I, nothing loath,
Called out both Buzwik brothers, and wounded them both,
Who then... but these are trifles. How would you proceed?
We'll at once to the saddle; is that what you need?
Call up rifles? That's easy; I've powder; the priest
At the presbytery hides two small cannons at least.
I recall Jankiel saying, he has somewhere hid
Points for lances, which he will give to me, if bid;
These he had from Królewiec brought over on rafts
In secret; we shall take them, at once make the shafts,
Of sabres there are plenty; all gentry to horse,
Nephew and I shall lead, and-we'll manage, of course!"
"O Polish blood!" the monk cried; with joy on his face,
And with arms opened wide leapt the Judge to embrace,
"True child of the Soplicas! God you did ordain
To cleanse your errant brother's soul of sin's black stain;
I have always respected you, but now shall bear
Such great love to you as if we two brothers were.
Yes, prepare what we can, but it is not time yet,
I, myself, shall the time and the place for this set.
The Czar sent to Napoleon his couriers, I heard,
To ask for peace; so war has not yet been declared;
But Prince Józef had word now from a Monsieur Binion,
A Frenchman, in the Council, who voiced the opinion,
That these negotiations will soon peter out,
That war's certain. The Prince sent me here as a scout,
To order Lithuanians to show they can prove
To Napoleon, who is now preparing to move,
They would join with their sister, the Crown, in accord,
To demand that all Poland should now be restored.
With the Count, meanwhile, brother, one must get along;
He's a crank and a little fantastic, but young,
And a good Pole, right-minded, we need even such,
In rebellions, cranks even can aid the cause much,
This from experience; even the fools are of use,
If good-hearted, of course, and not led by some goose.
A great lord is the Count, has the gentry's respect,
The whole shire will him follow, if he so direct;
Every gentleman, knowing his riches, will say:
"This must be a sure thing, if lords join in the fray,
I will join him at once". "Yes, but let his first worry
Be to come here", the Judge said, "and say the word 'sorry',
After all I'm the senior, with rank in the nation!
With regard to the suit and proposed arbitration..."
The Bernardine the door slammed.-"Good trip, and good day!"
Said the Judge.
The priest vaulted straight into a shay,
Used the whip, with reins touched the nags' flanks; with a jerk
The shay shot off, and vanished in mist and in murk,
Only sometimes the grey-dun monk's cowl could be seen,
As above clouds a vulture, above the murk screen.
The Usher by now sidled towards the Count's house.
As a wily old fox, whom the bacon's smell draws,
Hastens near, but of huntsmen's tricks being aware,
Runs and stops, sits still sometimes, with brush in the air,
Waves the breeze to its nostrils, as if such fan could
Ask the wind if the huntsmen have poisoned the food:
Protazy left the roadway, and by a hayrick
Sneaks around the house, twirls in his hand a stout stick;
He pretends he sees cattle there up to no good,
With this skilful move, soon by the garden fence stood;
Now he bends, runs, you'd say he's engaged stalking crakes,
Then, at once, jumps the fence and he for the hemp makes.
In this verdant, and fragrant, and dense growing field
Near the house, various beasts can stay safely concealed,
As can men too. Espied in the cabbage, a hare
Jumps to hide in the hemp, for it's much safer there,
For through its perfumed jungle no greyhound fain went,
Nor a foxhound would venture in that heady scent.
In the hemp a man-servant, escaping the knout
Or fist, sits hid, till master's ill temper burns out,
Even runaway peasant recruits there may flit;
While the state combs the woods, they within the hemp sit.
And hence, at time of battles, forays and coercions,
Both sides will not be shy to use utmost exertions
The position to gain that the hemp field controls,
Which most commonly reaches up to homestead walls,
And at rear, where it often meets up with the hops,
Conceals thrust, and withdrawal, from enemy troops.
Protazy, though courageous, was nervous as well,
Occasioned as he was by the plant's unique smell
His adventures as usher, long past, to recall;
The one after the other, the hemp witnessed all:
A Telsz gentleman served once, who loud did protest,
Forced him under the table, with pistol to breast,
To bark out that the summons had no legal force,
So, in haste, to the hemp fled the Usher, of course.
How, later, Wolodkiewicz, proud, insolent lord
Who broke up local diets, courts bullied, ignored,
Being so served a summons, it into shreds tore,
And, with a club-armed heyduk before every door,
Over the Usher's head he a naked held rapier,
Shouting: "Either you're mincemeat, or you'll eat this paper".
Feigning eating, the Usher, a man of good sense,
Stealing up to a window jumped in the hemp thence.
True it was, in Lithuania, old ways were let slip,
Such as warding off summons with sabre or whip,
And an usher would sometimes now only be cursed:
But Protazy was not in the new customs versed;
Could not be, for it's long since he with one proceeded.
Though always ready, though with the Judge for it pleaded,
The Judge, with due regard for his age, had rejected
This request so far, this time his offer accepted
As his need is so pressing.
The Usher peers, waits-
All is still-with his hands he the hemp separates,
The stalks pushing apart, in this thicket tries hiding,
Like one fishing, who under the water is gliding;
His head raised now-all's quiet, he peers through a pane-
All still hushed-he examines each corner again-
Not a sound-on the porch now, the latch, not undaunted,
He unlocks-all is empty, a palace enchanted;
Takes his summons and loudly reads out, sheet by sheet,
A loud clatter is heard, his heart misses a beat,
Wants to flee; when a man, at the door, met his eyes-
By good fortune, familiar! Worm! Both were surprised.
Obvious, that the Count's people and he were all gone,
And in great haste, door open, the latch left undone,
And one sees there's been arming: twin-barrels, and stocks,
And carbines on the flooring, with ramrods and cocks,
And a gunsmith's tools also for mending such gear;
Powder, paper: they must have made cartridges here.
Did the Count with his escort ride off on a chase?
But then, why all the side arms? Of swords here a brace,
Without hilts, and quite rusty; there lies an epée,
They were choosing arms, doubtless, from this disarray,
And old armouries even ransacked for their hoards.
So, intently Worm surveyed those matchlocks and swords,
And then, to ask the servants, proceeded towards
The farmhouse, to find out where the Count could have gone;
At the empty farm found he but two ancient crones,
And he learned that the Master and his complement,
In a body, all armed, by the Dobrzyn road went.
Dobrzyn settlement famous is along the Niemen
For men's valour, and beauty of its gentlewomen.
Once populous and mighty; when, rousing the nation,
King Jan the Third once ordered a mobilization,
The ensign of the district, from Dobrzyn alone
Brought six hundred armed gentry. Today, the clan, grown
Smaller, poorer; employed once at mansions, or riots,
Or the army, or forays, or helping at diets,
Off the fat of the land lived Dobrzynskis, but now
They, somehow, have to live by the sweat of their brow,
Like hired peasants! Although they wear no russet coats,
But instead they are clad in black-striped white capotes,
And on Sundays, kontuszes. Their ladies, as well,
Though the poorest, from peasant girls one can them tell:
As a rule they wear linen, or percale frocks, and
Herd cattle not in bark clogs, but slippers well-tanned,
And reap grain, even spin cloth, with glove covered hand.
The Dobrzynskis thus differed from neighbouring folk
In their stature, appearance, and manner of talk.
Of pure Polish blood they, with hair blacker than crows,
Deep black eyes, and high foreheads, and aquiline nose;
From the Dobrzyn lands they their ancestral line trace,
And though four hundred years they have lived in this place,
They preserved the Masovian old customs and speech.
When they're called at a christening to name a babe, each
Will select a saint's name with a Polish Crown bias:
Saint Bartholomew mainly, or else Saint Matthias.
Thus is Matthew's son always a Bartholomew,
And Bartholomew's Matthew, in turn, will be too;
Women would be named either Kasia or Maryna.
And, to tell one from t'other in such a dog's dinner,
They adopt various nick-names, for some known acumen,
Or defect, or a virtue, for both men and women.
More than one such odd nick-name a man sometimes gathers,
As a mark of respect, or contempt, from the others;
A gentleman will sometimes by one name be known
In Dobrzyn, while elsewhere he'll a different name own.
Imitating Dobrzynskis, among gentry near
Such soubriquets, or 'by-names', would also appear.
Now all families, nearly, use such soubriquet
Unaware that in Dobrzyn their origin lay,
And which there made good sense; while the rest of the nation
Used such also, but only through crass imitation.
Thus Matthias Dobrzynski, the head of his people,
In the settlement known was as 'Cock-on-the-Steeple'.
Later on, in the Seventeen Ninety Fourth year
Changing by-name, he as 'By-my-side' did appear,
While Dobrzynskis to call him 'The Bunny' preferred,
And Litwa on him 'Maciek-of-Macieks' conferred.
As he others ruled, his house the settlement governed;
Situated just halfway between church and tavern,
Seemed but rarely frequented, as if trash lived there.
Open, unfenced, the garden; the gate posts stand bare,
Nothing in the beds planted, instead, birches drowse;
Yet this farmhouse appeared as the hamlet's chief house,
As more shapely than others, more spaciously made,
The right side, with the parlour, of brickwork well-laid.
Cowshed nearby, a storehouse, a granary, pantry,
Packed together, as often the custom of gentry;
All uncommonly rotten, old; sunlight though played
On the many roofs as if of tin they were made,
But were moss and grass really, luxuriant, well-nourished,
Which as in hanging gardens upon this thatch flourished.
Various plants thrived: red crocus and nettles there grew,
Yellow mullein, green henbane's bright showy tail too,
Homes of all sorts of birds, in the roof pigeons nest,
Swifts in window reveals; at the front step, with zest,
Hop white rabbits and burrow in untrod turf patch;
In a word, seems the homestead a big rabbit hutch.
But, a fortified place once! Of traces, no lack,
It had seen off a frequent and fearsome attack.
By the gateway, in grass, like a baby's head round,
And as large, an iron cannon ball could still be found,
Relic of Swedish wars; once the gate, now long gone,
By that ball was kept open, as if by a stone.
In the courtyard among weeds and wormwood and mosses
Arise stumps, now time-rotted, of some dozen crosses,
In unhallowed ground; plainly these had been erected;
For all those in death fallen swift and unexpected.
One who closely examines house, granary and store,
Will see walls densely pock-marked from roof-beam to floor,
As by swarms of black insects; there sits in each spot
A ball, just like a bumble bee in its earth grot.
On the homestead's doors every hook, handle and clout
Had been chopped, or by sabres slashed badly about,
Perhaps testing the temper of 'Zygmunt' swords here,
Which a head off its clout can quite easily shear,
Or cleave steel hooks, and leaving not even a notch on
The blade. Over the door was Dobrzynskis' escutcheon,
But by shelves full of cheese had the arms all been covered,
And with their nests the swallows had plastered them over;
In house, stable and coach-house, were trappings of war,
Like the clutter you'll find in an old armoury store.
Four huge helmets are hanging from under the roof,
Ornaments of brows martial: Venus' birds now coo
Inside, pigeons are feeding their chicks; hangs aloft
In the stable a hauberk huge over the trough,
And a cuirass of ring-mail, down which catapults,
Tossed in by the boy, clover, the food for the colts.
The cook, at the range, rapiers, with no God nor wit,
Uses spoiling their temper, instead of a spit;
A 'buntschuk', Vienna war spoil, her hand-mill now dusted:
Thus had housewifely Ceres the god Mars long ousted,
And with Vertumna, Flora, Pomona, now reigns
Over Dobrzynski's house, barn, outhouses and wains.
But these goddesses also their place must now yield.
Into Dobrzyn at daybreak there wheeled
A messenger on horseback, and at the still houses,
And as if for forced labour, the gentry arouses,
In the settlement's streets soon crowds gather and grow,
Cries are heard at the inn, at the priest's candles glow;
All rush, asking what means this, and what is the source,
Seniors gather; each youth runs to saddle a horse,
The women hold them tightly, boys scuffle and shout,
They are itching to fight, but with whom? What about?
They must stay, nonetheless. The priest's house is now used
For a meeting that's lengthy, tumultuous, confused,
Which, for lack of decision, resolved it was better
Before old father Maciej to place the whole matter.
Years full seventy-two hale old Maciej now wore,
Not tall, a Bar Confederate he had been of yore.
All his friends well knew, also his foes near and far,
The curved damascene steel of his sharp scimitar,
Which would steel pikes and bayonets like hay chop, and which
Had in jest once been given the modest name 'Switch'.
From Confederacy he was to Royal faction guided,
And with Tyzenhaus, Treasurer of Litwa he sided;
But when with Targowica the King threw his lot ,
Maciej straight his adherence to King's side forgot.
And, because he so often changed party and side,
He as 'Cock-on-the-Steeple' was known far and wide,
For he changed with the wind, like a roof weathervane.
The cause of all these shifts you will fathom in vain:
Perhaps Maciej was too fond of war, when defeated
On one side, with another again battle greeted?
Perhaps the times well judging, diplomatist shrewd,
He went where he could best serve the Fatherland's good?
Who knows why! This but sure, he was not led astray
By greed for reputation, nor ignoble pay,
In no Muscovite faction his trust ever placed;
At the sight of a Russian he frothed and grimaced,
So that after partition he one never saw,
And stayed home, as a bear stays and licks a sore paw.
The last time he saw service he went with Oginski
To Wilno, where both soldiers served under Jasinski,
With his 'Switch' he there wonders of valour had shown.
That he from Praga's walls leapt alone, is well known,
And thus succoured Pan Pociej, stretched out on the ground
On the battlefield, suffering his twenty-third wound.
They all thought in Lithuania that neither would live:
But both came back, though each full of holes like a sieve.
At the war's end, Pan Pociej, a generous lord,
Wished his saviour Dobrzynski an ample reward,
A five-chimney farm offered for life in free-hold,
And a stipend of thousand of zlotys in gold.
But Dobrzynski said: "Better that in debt be Pociej
To Maciej, than should Pociej be patron to Maciej".
So the farm he refused and no money would take,
Returned home, made a living by things he would make:
He made hives for the bees, drugs for cattle prepared,
Sent partridges to market, which he himself snared,
And by hunting.
In Dobrzyn there were a good few
Prudent old men, sagacious, who some Latin knew,
Who from youth were experienced to speak at the bar;
In the clan there were many men richer by far,
But Maciej, poor and simple, more than held his own,
Not only as a bruiser his 'Switch' made well-known,
But as one of good judgement both prudent and sure,
Who knew his country's history, the family lore,
With the law well acquainted, and husbandry too.
Maciej secrets of healing, and hunting, well knew,
He was even believed (though the priest this denies)
To know things which no man can know, however wise.
This sure, changes in weather he could tell aright
More often than the farmer's own almanac might.
No surprise, that the starting of each season's sowing,
The dispatching of barges, the reaping or mowing,
The recourse to the law, or contracting a price,
Did not happen in Dobrzyn without his advice.
Such influence the old man did not seek, but tended
To avoid it in fact; and his clients offended,
And most often, in silence, would send the man home,
Advice seldom gave, not just to any who'd come,
And only in most serious agreements or cases;
When asked, gave his opinion, in just a few phrases.
It was thought he'd take charge of today's big affair
And would make himself leader of everyone there;
For when young he looked forward to fights and affrays,
And was ever a foe to the Muscovite race.
Just then the old man walked in the courtyard, alone,
Humming the tune: 'When early arose the fair dawn',
Glad the weather was clearing; the mist did not rise,
As so often it does when clouds cover the skies,
But sank down ever lower, wind stretched out a hand
And caressed the mist, stroked it, spread over the land;
The sun from on high, meanwhile, with myriad of rays
The warp pierces, gilds, silvers, with pink threads inlays.
As two masters in Sluck weave their wonderful sash:
The girl weaver below puts silk threads through the mesh,
Her hand smoothing the web, while the top weaver spreads
And throws down to her, silver, gold and purple threads,
Weaving colours and flowers: just so, the wind drew
Mist's warp over the earth, the sun weaving it through.
Maciej, warmed by the sun's rays, his prayers now ended,
To his housekeeping chores next he duly attended.
Bringing out leaves and grass, sat him down. At the sound
Of his whistling a rabbit swarm sprang from the ground.
Like narcissi that over the grass sudden sprung,
Long ears glimmering palely; below, brightly strung,
Like bright rubies, their gaudy eyes gleaming blood-red,
Thickly embroidered into their green velvet bed.
Conies now on their hind paws, each upright and listening,
Pay attention; the brood then, all white-furry, glistening,
Hop up to the old fellow by cabbage leaves drawn,
On his feet, knees and shoulders they hop, sit enthroned,
Himself white as a rabbit, he loves to convoke
Them around him, with one hand their warm fur to stroke,
From his cap with the other oats on the grass scatters;
Off the roofs then the sparrows' vociferous mob flutters.
While the old man enjoyment in this feasting found,
All the rabbits soon vanished back into the ground,
To the roof went the sparrows, escaping new guests
Who towards Maciej's farmhouse with rapid steps pressed.
These were, from the priest's house, by the council of gentry,
Envoys dispatched for Maciej's advice. Before entry,
The old gentleman greeting from far, their caps raised,
They said, to the ground bowing, "Lord Jesus be praised!"
"Ever and ever, amen", the old man replied,
When the mission's importance he'd fully descried,
Asked them in; so they entered, and sat down, and waited.
The chief envoy, still standing, their purpose then stated.
To the farm in the meantime much more gentry drew.
Nearly all were Dobrzynskis, of neighbours some few
From the settlements near, some bear arms, some with none,
Some in carts came, and britzkas, some rode there, some ran,
Some on farm wagons; horses to birches were tied,
Round the house they all circled, pushed, curious, inside,
Filled the room, then the hallway, and stood there compressed.
Stragglers gawked through the windows, with heads to heads pressed.