Issue 8, Spring 1955
Now I walk back to the Manor House, on the path which runs back of peasant yards and barns, along the quite well-trodden path where everybody walks to avoid the mud of the main road. You have to be careful, for there the village people also go, to defecate in the open; there the village lovers meet at twilight, or in evening; there a thief sneaks by with a sack of oats from the manor house storage where it was handed to him secretly by the estate’s worker; the village murderer blindly runs this way, wiping his knife, roughly made out of a scythe blade, on the skirts of his sheepskin coat; there prances a calf, run away from the yard; this way behind the peasant huts a path leads to the church; this way the village maids in their short and stiff petticoats go home with their kerchiefs tied crosswise on their breasts; this way they guide the emissary of the Ukrainian underground organization, a city man with thin trench coat and muddied city shoes; there the policemen patrol in twos with their fixed bayonets, and their dog, a trained Alsatian, tugging at his leash. There goes limping Pawe, the gardechasse, to hire “lads” for the battue; and the wife of the petty Jewish middleman, Judka, she is splashed with mud and hurrying to her hungry and multitudinous children; there goes the marauding tomcat after field mice; there ghosts haunt the way after midnight; there the ravens gather; there the sun in melancholic way is reflected in the puddles from under the heavy bags of clouds. Lord! how dreadful and close and far away is this Corso, promenade, “la salle des pas perdus”, in the county of Rawa, on one side fields, boundary strips, ditches, and the undulations of flat hills and moist meadows running down to the water, on the other side the thatched roofs of the cottages blackened with moisture, pear trees with their leaves shivering like the leaves of aspen trees, beech trees round the Uniate church, dunghills of the farmyards, and the road along the fences and commons with its puddles and the clods of mud mirrored in its oceans like the rocks of Cape Horn.
Back in my room, the birch logs in the stove are crackling, in the chinks of the cast-iron door of the stove I can see the turbulent flames. Many times the cracks in the mortar of the stove have been plastered anew, and again they chipped away, the warmth sieves through and radiates from it, something explodes in the fire and makes the wooden furniture in the room creak. The black window looks into the winter garden and I make out the foreign tree which grows in front of my window, foreign and indiscreet like a voyager from strange, faraway lands, observing critically how these Hyperboreans are living in here, such a long, gaunt trunk, and even now in winter there are hanging from its branches some kind of siliquas like the braids of some foreign devil’s wig.
My room is the school room of the manor house, and, as I came for the Christmas holidays, they put in a bed for me, without disturbing the chronic atmosphere of the interior. Along the walls are glass-paned bookcases, locked with a keylatch (in the same way, following some seventeenth century custom, they are locking up the sugar in the sugar bowl, for in those times the “kanar” was expensive and rare, and now it is the cheapest of commodities.) So the book cases are locked, and through the glass panes I can see the backs of the books, Bibliotheque rouge, with short stories for little girls, of course Verne’s The Adventures of the Brig Chancellor and Among the Tribes of Boukhara, Daudet’s Monsieur le sous-préfet aux champs, Guy de Maupassant’s Contes choisies, édition pour la jeunesse, Anatole France’s L’Etui de nacre, Eucken’s The Story of Philosophy, Le Petit Larousse, an album of Polish paintings, Petite Illustration, Le Temps, Lettres de Mademoiselle de l’Epinasse and The Life of Mikoaj Srebrempisany, Spausta’s On Trails, and what else, odds and ends, nicely dustjacketed in packing paper and the titles done in ink, authors, and numbers; and to this place pursues me with its slow pace, its steady crawl, the bibliobookish-paper-pulpy larva, chewing and gnawing, its muzzle dripping with pulpy saliva, its jaws milling paper into chaff and sawdust; it drills and cuts across my brain, that rustling pulpy world which has messed and crumpled this other world until I am stupified, not knowing in which world I am.