THIS was a small Polish town, hardly worth the satanic attentions of Stalin's most artful terrorist. Yet there was a spirit here that must be broken, because in it lay the seeds of rebirth. And here too was one gaunt old lady who was that spirit, incarnate, and the Russian bear stood helpless before her.
IN OCTOBER, as usual, the wind began to blow out of the east across the flats and the brown rivers of Russia, to pour all their cold upon Poland. In October, also, the Russian army of occupation reached the village of Dokociny.
The village was already starving; it had already begun to freeze; and so Dokociny remained impassive when it learned that the Russians were coming, that actually they intended to maintain a fortified encampment beside the bridgehead. It meant permanent disaster.
The men began to look sadly upon the women, the women upon the pigs in the sty and the cows in the shed and the poor, down-headed horses which had just ploughed and harrowed in the winter wheat. Even in the eyes of the children there was a look of farewell, for they understood that the Russian knows how to take all, body and soul.
Also, the Russians had peculiar reason to hate Dokociny for in every rebellion the men of the village had died for Polish freedom. In 1920 when the Red invasion reached Dokociny Lake, the men of the village stood their ground beside the water and died to the last man, for they had been betrayed.
That is why the men of Dokociny are very old or very young. Those who would be middle-aged now had died by the lake. Clopacki was the name of the traitor. He showed the Russians the way across the marsh and let them take his people from the rear.
With such a record of stubborn patriotism, the villagers awaited the worst without much talk, for since the evil would be greater than the flesh could endure, their souls retired into deep Slavic contemplation of that peace which, in the end, all men shall inherit.
Then their priest appeared suddenly among them with news which no philosophy, however calm and profound, could endure. The Russian commander in the district was to be none other than terrible Vladimir Repnin, He had the malice of a cripple; a knife thrust had left him almost mute. In his youth he had had the voice of a bull. Now the deep forest of his beard concealed the wound which had silenced him.
So he became an official torturer, a specialist in pain. Whether it was to put down a peasants' revolt or purge higher officialdom, there was no brutality that could not be confided to General Repnin.
When the men and women of Dokociny heard of his coming, they followed their priest to the ruins of the school, which had been destroyed during the war by some homeward-bound airman with a last bomb going to waste in his rack. The hundred families of Dokociny could not afford a church, but for generations the school had been enough for their services. Now, in the ruins of it, the priest prayed with them until the women ceased weeping aloud. But except for prayer, even the priest could offer no comfort. A storm from heaven may waver from its course but the Russian evil was like something predestined.
The shadow of Repnin now began to fall before him on the villagers, a horror sufficient to darken the eyes. He had reached Birkhov, some dozen miles to the east, which was also to be in his district. From Birkhov came tormented fugitives. They showed backs bruised and torn by the knout, and they could not take the name of Repnin in their mouths.
The people of Dokociny listened to the stories of agony, and were silent.
A little later, through the first flurry of November snow, General Repnin marched through Dokociny. It would be more accurate to say that he marched past it, for the hundred houses of the village lie all on one side of the lane, turning their backs to winter and the east and looking out across their narrow fields.
From two to five acres is a family holding, but by hand-working the black soil they force a subsistence from it. Now the people stood at their doors to see the invaders go by. There was a column of rattling trucks, a stream of soldiers, but all they saw, to remember, was Vladimir Repnin.
He rode neither in an automobile, as befitted his rank, nor in one of the trucks. Instead, according to his invariable custom, he marched in the deepest mud in the middle of the road at the head of his men. Their hardships he shared with them, every one, so that although it was impossible for men to love such a monster, they were willing to follow anywhere at his heels like a pack of savage dogs acknowledging a master.
He was so huge and strong that in his uniform jacket he looked as big as a man in an overcoat. He shortened his stride to the military step, which gave him a strangely mincing air, and the wind, blowing into his face, carved his great black beard in two and showed the white skin in the parting. He looked neither to one side or the other but stared straight forward. The Russians marched through Dokociny as though it were an empty illusion.
For three days there was no sound or sight of them. They were establishing their camp near the lake and felling timber in the forest of Count Chernagov. Not evil but good news suddenly came. The three thousand acres of that estate were to be shared among the peasants of the district. Word of this was brought to Maria Clopacka. She was a tall woman with a grim face, seventy-two years old, and very gaunt, but she carried the weight of her big bones like a soldier.
At one time the family had been so honored that the village school was named Clopacki, but after the treason of Maria Clopacka's son, Stanislaw, at the battle of Lake Dokociny, that name had been erased. It was the Clopacka woman herself who, with a hammer and a cold chisel, cut away the word from its place of honor.
She insisted that the name of Zamoyski, who was the dead hero of the battle, should take its place. She declared that she never had had a son named Stanislaw. His picture disappeared from her house and in its place she hung a photograph of Ignacy Zamoyski. Because of these decisive actions and because she was the aristocrat of the town, she was held in great respect.
When she heard that the estate of Count Chernagov was to be partitioned she said: "Count Chernagov was our father and our friend, was he not?"
"He was a good man and a friend to us," said the school teacher, who brought the great news. "Each of our families will gain an acre or two. Think of good coming to us from the Russians!"
"I can't rob a friend," said the old woman.
"But the count is dead," said the schoolmaster.
"Shall I eat the dead?" she demanded.
The villagers were overwhelmed when they heard of this remark. But they would not flinch from this high example. Not a family in Dokociny would share in the division of the estate.
Word of this attitude, which showed in an entire village not one weak spirit, was brought to Repnin by his aide, Aksakoff, a thin man with a forward-thrusting face. He pointed out that only Polish stupidity and patriotic pride existed in Dokociny. Was it not time that the village should be taken in hand? The general showed an odd interest. He laughed. His whispering voice was ugly and sinister enough, but when he laughed it was like the hissing of a snake. He ordered that the woman Clopacka should be brought before him the next day.
A sufficient warning reached the widow. The elders advised her to flee. She refused.
"The day I leave Dokociny I am already dead," she said, and the words still are much quoted.
The priest, being sent to for his advice, made a long journey and arrived that night in time to pray for several hours with Maria Clopacka. His knees and his neck both were aching, he had bowed himself so completely to the will of God and for such a long time, when he discovered that the widow, sitting upright in her straight chair, was sound asleep. He was annoyed and awakened her.
"Why should I pray when you can do it so much better than I?" she asked. "I have perfect trust in you, father."
THE next morning, without waiting to be sent for, she walked to the Russian camp. It was a whole town of square little huts and now its streets were full of plopping sounds as boots were pulled out of the thick mud, for the ground had not yet frozen hard and the marsh was merely soupy with the cold. A sentry took her to headquarters, where a low hut of logs already had been thrown up.
Aksakoff, the aide, was standing in front of the cabin.
"This is the woman Clopacka," said the sergeant of the guard who conducted her.
Aksakoff seemed pleased. When he smiled, his eyes were slits out of which he could hardly see, and he was always smiling.
She was inspired to say: "How do you do?" which in the Polish formula is: "Blessed be Jesus Christ!"
To this, of course, no Russian can make the proper answer. The aide merely grinned at her.
"You are Clopacka, the female patriot," he said. "But Poland is dead and only a fool loves the dead."
"Only sinners forget them," she said.
Without proverbs she would have been a silent woman. Her folk-sayings troubled Aksakoff a little.
"Clopacki is a bright name in your village," he said, taking a different tack.
"A name is like the clothes we wear," she answered. "It can be soiled."
"As the name of Clopacki was by your son, the traitor?" he asked.
"I have no son," she said.
"Why do you lie, little mother?" he asked.
"In Dokociny, no one dares to say that I ever had a son."
"But, traitors or not, do you not know, little mother, that Poland never could stand against great Russia?"
She closed her eyes and quoted from the poet who says, in effect:
Poland, how could you fall?
Who could put chains upon you
Except the hands of your sons
Who fear nothing except one another?
"However, we have come to stay," said Aksakoff, his smile withering swiftly.
"The bear can walk like a man, but still it is a beast," she quoted again. Aksakoff breathed an instant through his teeth.
"Come in, then, to the general," he invited, and opened the door, walking in before her.
INSIDE, it was as simple as a peasant's hut. In one corner was a straw tick and a roll of bedding where the general slept. In another corner there was a stove with a soup-pot blackening on top of it. One window gave light to a clerk whose table was heaped high with papers. At another table sat the general. Aksakoff took the place beside him.
"I hear that I shall be wanted. So I have come," she said.
Aksakoff was still white with anger. "Who brings news from the camp to your village?" he demanded, for he always knew the mind of his general and saved that sore, weak throat by doing the talking.
"I cannot tell," she said.
"You will not tell, you mean?" said the aide. "Was it a man or a woman?"
"I cannot remember," she said.
"Ah?" said Aksakoff. "We know how to freshen memories!"
He was surprised to see the general shake his head.
"Clopacka," he said, "you have incited to revolt against the orders of the United Soviet Republics. Like an old sow with a great litter at your heels, you have drawn your whole village into bad ways."
"I am old, it is true, but I am not a beast," she answered.
"Have you not called Chernagov a friend?" asked the aide.
"Should I deny the dead?" she replied.
"Good!" said the aide, settling back in his chair. "She confesses. She will make an example for the whole district."
The husky voice of the general murmured: "She is an ancient creature, and she is a woman."
Aksakoff looked twice at his master. "Two excellent reasons to make a scarecrow of her," he said, "and frighten the others."
The general lifted a big hand. The fingernails were broken and the hand thickened with labor for he was an example to his men not only on the march but also in all their daily work.
He said: "What is your age, Maria Clopacka?"
He spoke in Polish and the widow was surprised by the enunciation.
"You speak like a Pole," she said, "and as though you had been born in Birkhov or in Dokociny."
Aksakoff jumped to his feet but the general hissed at him and he grudgingly sat down again. He was in a state of high expectancy, however, for whenever Repnin held his hand in the beginning it was in order to strike harder in the end.
Repnin said: "We hear that you are starving in your village."
"That is not true," said the widow.
"What have you to eat?" asked Repnin.
"We have pigs and some cows and there are always the horses."
"How many, all told?" asked Repnin.
"Enough," she answered.
"That is a lie," said the aide. "These people of Dokociny slaughtered their pigs and shipped the meat west to their army. They gave their cattle, also. There is not one cow, now, to three houses; there is not one brood sow to two families."
"Is it true?" asked Repnin.
This whispering voice of his gave, continually, an effect of confiding sympathy. When he sent people to their death, it was as though he were sharing an intimate secret with them.
"It is not true. We have what we need," said the widow.
"Your lips already are blue," said Repnin. "How long is it since you have tasted meat?"
"It troubles my stomach," she answered.
"You have been living on tea and a little bread for weeks," said the general.
"I have all that I need," said she.
"We shall see," whispered Repnin, and set off at once to visit Dokociny.
HE TOOK the widow with him as he glanced into every pigsty, every cowshed, and poked the lean ribs of the horses. He climbed ladders into the empty attics where usually there was the store of smoked meat; he examined the supplies of hay and grain. On the whole he conducted himself more like a tyrannical landlord than like a general. He reached the house of Maria Clopacka in due time, climbed into her empty attic, looked at the slab-sided sow in the sty.
An old woman sat by the stove of Maria Clopacka. She was half blind; it was a moment before she understood enough to stand up and shrink into a corner.
"Who are you?" asked the whisper of Repnin.
"I am the servant, Anna," she said.
"Ah, ha!" murmured Aksakoff. "Do you see? An aristocrat—a servant even when she starves!"
He threw back his head and took in a long breath as if he were inhaling the smoke and fragrance of his own malice.
"This woman receives pay from you?" whispered Repnin.
"I get no pay when there is no money," said Anna.
"Can she be a servant if she works without pay?" pondered Repnin.
"Once she was a servant," said Maria Clopacka. "Now she is a friend."
The general for a long moment looked at Anna with his brilliant black eyes. Then he left the village and returned to the camp.
THE rumor that stole through the Polish air that night was that Repnin would confiscate the last of the livestock and leave the village to starve indeed. The elders came in a mass upon Maria Clopacka and demanded to know what had happened.
"You know what goes on in the minds of people," they said. "Now tell us about the general. Are we to be hanged, or shot, or simply starved?"
"How can I know a man who has no voice?" she answered. "I can tell what a cow wants when its lows, or what a dog wants when it barks, but who can tell the mind of a snake?"
She brewed herself some more tea and with it ate the second half of yesterday's crust. After that she lay down on the soggy mountain of the bed whose blankets and feathers and stitched comforters were her greatest wealth, but she did not sleep very well. She felt cold. The hunger pains she knew well enough but she could not understand the chill that lingered in her blood. When at last the late autumn morning came, she realized that she was vastly relieved. Only now she understood that all night long she had been afraid.
She went into the house of her old friend, ancient Roman Pozenski, and drank tea, sitting beside his tall stove. He brought a sausage, cut off a thick slice, and toasted it at the open fire. Then he offered it to her.
She tried to refuse the food, but his hand remained in front of her face, silently insisting. At last she took it. At the first taste, water ran violently into her mouth. She had to keep swallowing fast. She ate the sausage in small bites, pretending to be very absent-minded but really making it last.
Roman Pozenski puffed at his pipe. He had lost all of his front teeth and, to keep the pipe more easily in place, he wound string around the mouth-piece.
THERE was a surprise in the village that day. Two trucks came, filled with Russians and high stacks of boxes. They entered the ruins of the Tozynski house and stored the boxes. A trumpet blew and a drum beat in the street. The people were made to come out and form a line.
It was such a cold, dark morning that there was little curiosity, no weeping, not many regrets. Probably they were to be marched away and mowed down by machine-gun fire, but who could desire very passionately to remain in a world so bleak, so hungry? The smallest of the Zamoyski boys carried in his arms a little puppy and cherished it inside his coat. He was ashamed to take it away to die with him, but he could not leave it behind.
Instead of being marched away from the village to the marsh, which would bury the dead without the digging of trenches, they were herded slowly through the old Tozynski house. There they found that the boxes from the trucks had been opened.
Strange, hopeful odors filled the air. Little packages had been made up, each filled with one day's ration. The Russian soldiers passed out the parcels with foolish smiles such as men wear when they take part in the games of children. In the background stood Valdimir Repnin with his big arms folded across his breast. He moved forward when Maria Clopacka's turn came.
"She is very thin. Give her two rations," said the general.
She was astonished. "One ration is enough," she said. Then she made herself tall. "I beg for my Anna, not for myself," she added.
"What comes to pride?" demanded the general, and she saw the gleam of his teeth through his dark beard.
"The whip of the master comes to pride," she said, out of the book. "But I have no master!"
The thin face of Aksakoff, as he listened, vainly expectant, compacted with many wrinkles, his venom so hurt him. Maria Clopacka turned her back on him and walked away, slowly, in case someone wished to detain her.
"Evil shall come of this," said Aksakoff, loudly, and the villagers heard.
The elders waited upon Maria later in the day, when there had been time to recover from this miracle.
"It may be true," they said, "that the beast Repnin is fatting us like calves and that he will drink our blood in the end; but in the meantime is it wise for the lamb to nibble the lion's beard? On the other hand, praise paves the way to friendship and gratitude pays for a second meal. Why do you hold up your head so high before the general?"
"I would rather be the hungry truth than the fat lie," said Maria Clopacka.
"You are alone," said the elders, "and therefore you can only die once; but we have families and we could die many times. Let your honesty have a vacation. A short rest is always good."
Maria Clopacka found no words to answer because these were proverbs. "Think of what we have said," they told her. "We shall come again. You are a danger to the whole town."
When they, had gone, she lay on her back on the great bed. When her eyes were open, they saw the pictures of Christ Bearing the Cross and of St. Stephen, oil lithographs intolerably brilliant. For years they had made her think of death, and for years they had been her friends for that reason; but now they made her think of the fate of the entire village and she closed her eyes so that she might not see them.
Anna brought her tea, the cup chattering against the saucer, for age was so tremulous in her that she seemed always dying of fear. She propped the head of Maria and held the cup at her lips. Afterward she said: "Stand up, Maria Clopacka; the old men have come again to see you."
So Maria stood up and Anna smoothed the blue-checked gingham covers of the bed and the pillows before the men came in. Maria Clopacka could not look at any face among them except that of Roman.
One of them stepped forward, the old woodcutter, Igor. He said: "They have not come down on us because they plan some terrible blow. Have you heard what General Repnin did at Omsk? He herded the mujiks into the cattle shoots at the slaughter yards, and as they went by, he swung the mallet with his own hands and killed them like steers. He remembered to be thirsty after a while, like Peter the Great, and he called for beer and drank it by the quart with the blood running down into it from his hands...
"There is only one thing, Maria Clopacka. Go quickly to the Russian camp. Perhaps they already will be on the march. For the man Aksakoff hates you, and he is the general's voice and also his brain. Fall on your knees before the general. Beg him to take pity on Dokociny. Tell him the bad words come from you, only, and that the whole village loves him like a father that has fed his family."
"I shall go," said Maria Clopacka.
WHEN they had left the house, she told Anna to lay out her Sunday clothes and to put water on the stove. She undressed, bathed with hot water and soap, and then clothed herself in her best.
You tell the wealth of a peasant by the thickness of the pile of his bedding, and the genteel condition of a woman is witnessed in the manifold layers of her under and outer clothing. Maria Clopacka wrapped herself up like a bundle and overlaid all with a blouse that was drawn at the throat on a ribbon. Finally she tugged on the sheepskin coat with the fur turned inside. The strong smell of it was a comfort to her like the voice of an old friend.
After that she was a little tired and sat down to rest, but the moment she was in the chair thoughts commenced to pour through her mind. Twice Anna spoke to her without receiving an answer. She went hurrying to Roman Pozenski and said to him: "Maria Clopacka does not stir. She sits in a chair like a bewildered woman. Go and rouse her. Tell her again what she must do."
Roman Pozenski came accordingly to the house, but when he saw how Maria sat with unknown thoughts in her eyes, he said nothing at all. He went out to the elders who stood anxiously in the street in spite of the wind that was screaming out of the east.
"She cannot go," said Roman. "The Clopacka family have died for Poland and they know how to stand up straight, but their legs never learned how to bend at the knees and beg."
No one argued against this. The old men went back to their houses, gathered their families about them, and waited for the blow to fall.
It was about this time that Maria Clopacka finished digesting her pride. She rose from the bed and said: "I am a sinner. God have mercy on me. How easy it would be to die! But I must go to the Russians!"
Anna was so old that she looked permanently astonished. Now she was transfixed.
"But I cannot go like a beggar. I must carry a gift in my hand. What shall it be, Anna?"
"You have the cough mixture which your great grandmother invented," said Anna, "and God and St. Stephen know that the general has a sore, sore throat."
Maria stared at her. "Anna," she said, "what could I do without your brains and your quick way of using them?"
The jar of cough mixture was almost empty. She made a fresh supply out of the herb box, measuring the quantities with infinite care, and blending the simmered juices with honey and strong tea. When she had finished, she offered the blend to Anna.
"It is like walking through a pine forest in spring," said Anna. "It's like meadows in the pinewoods—and that's exactly the way it should smell!"
"Good!" said Maria. "I love to have you find me right, Anna."
She went out again to the Russian and was led without question to headquarters.
Aksakoff, about to enter the hut, turned and stared at her for a moment. He grinned himself blind as he held up his hands to help her from her horse.
"I want no help, friend," said Maria. "I might slip through your hands to a great fall."
"If not today, tomorrow," said the aide, hating her with his eyes brightly and patiently.
"So every cat says to every dog," said Maria, "but in Poland we ask for no reasons when we see a spider on the wall, a snake on the floor, or a Russian by the stove."
Aksakoff, drawing in his breath, made a drinking sound.
MARIA went past him and opened the door of the hut. There was a stove inside but it was not nearly warm enough; and she vowed that she saw in the lower levels of the air, where the heat had not mingled with the curdling chill of the winter, a vague little shimmer of hoar frost. Yet the general sat at ease in shirt sleeves. She half suspected that his body was covered with fur.
"It is Maria Clopacka," said the husky voice of the general. "Panovich, here she is again—the only creature in the world that has no fear. Give her a chair by the stove!"
The orderly, looking sourly at Maria as though he had heard about other attributes than courage, silently placed a chair beside the stove, but Maria was unwrapping the small jar which she had brought.
She laid it on the table before the general. "It is something for your throat," she said.
"You have brought me a present?" asked Repnin, peering. "An ointment for my throat, little mother?"
"You should take half a teaspoonful every two hours until your throat is better," she advised.
"I saw that your face was good," said the general, "and now I know that your heart is good, also... Panovich, a spoon!"
"Good!" said the aide, now at the elbow of his general. "She has made the poison; and now like a spider she will see it kill."
General Repnin already had a spoonful of the mixture on the way to his lips. The words of his aide struck him so forcibly that he recoiled a little. For an instant Repnin peered into the face of old Maria. Then he whispered: "The Lord giveth; and the Lord taketh away!"
Straightway the spoon was in his mouth.
The aide said: "Well, at least we shall hold her until we know there's no harm in it."
The general made no answer for a moment. He had been so greatly moved that perspiration rolled on his cheeks and filled the deep sluices of the wrinkles on his forehead. "No," he said. "Let her go. Blessed be Jesus Christ!"
"In eternity, amen," said Maria, and went unhindered through the door, though the excited voice of Aksakoff still protested behind her.
When she got home, she told everything to Roman Pozenski.
"He was afraid," said Maria. "He sweated and he trembled. And yet he took the mixture."
"He was afraid of something more than fear," said Roman Pozenski.
"Ah, and what could that be?" asked Maria.
"I cannot tell," said Roman. "Never fear. We shall find out. There is no hurry. When the story is good, you don't want to turn to the last page at once, do you, Maria?"
IT WAS dusk of the next day when the village idiot, Michael, ran from house to house, opening doors, crying out breathlessly: "General Repnin—he has come without soldiers; he is in the house of Maria Clopacka!"
It was news so great that in every house the people sat staring at one another. When they began to smile, they hardly knew why.
In fact, Repnin was standing within the threshold of Maria's house, saying: "Is it a miracle, Maria Clopacka? I take your medicine for one day, and my voice begins to return, without pain!"
So far as she could tell, it was the same husky whisper, but she began to see, now, that this was a social visit.
"Will you drink a cup of tea with us?" asked Maria Clopacka.
"Yes; I am thirsty," said the general.
"This is the only fire that is burning well," she said. "Sit here and warm yourself. I shall come back at once. Anna, ask Roman Pozenski for some of his new tea."
"Any tea will be good enough for me," said Repnin.
She studied the man and his idea with that frankness which was peculiar to her.
"No," she decided. "You have been a father to Dokociny; and we all are your children."
The thought of stalwart old Maria as a child amused Anna and sent her laughing into the darkness. In the house of Pozenski, Anna said in great excitement: "Roman! Roman Pozenski! With her own breath out of her own mouth she has asked him into her house. She has offered him tea and sent me to borrow the best you have. And—oh, Roman Pozenski, do you believe that I have heard her say that the general is a father to the village and that we are all his children?"
Pozenski was so amazed that the pipe fell out of his toothless gums.
"If she stops hating the Russians," said Anna, "what will there be to warm her blood and feed her. Roman Pozenski, is she about to die?"
Roman Pozenski brought the tea but, for the first time in his life, he was unable to offer an answer. Anna, going back to the house of her mistress, pulled the door of the kitchen open and was astonished to hear soft sounds from the zither which stood on the small corner table. It was an old song which often is heard in Poland during the winter. The words say:
East wind, have you lost your way?
Is that why you wander so wildly?
Turn about! You are far from home!
But no one there will be glad of your coming.
It was in a pause of the wind that Anna stood at the open door, agape, watching the big hands of the general as he fingered the zither. He was half-turned from her so that she saw not the thick sweep of his beard but only the shape of his head and the sidewise cant of it. That and the old, old familiarity of the song made her cry out softly: "Stanislaw Clopacki!"
HE STARTED around at her. He was frowning at once, but she had seen a single glimpse of surprise and something that was almost fear. The kindly old diminutive came to her lips.
"Oh, Stach, Stach!" she said. "Where did I put my eyes that I didn't know you and your great shoulders before?"
He made a signal for silence. "Be still, or she'll hear you!" said he.
"Why shouldn't your own mother hear me?" she asked.
"Because I'm dead," he answered, "and in her own mind she's buried me. Hold your tongue."
"The kind God forgive us," said Anna.
Maria Clopacka came in at that moment and Anna turned in haste to prepare the tea.
The general said: "I have been looking at this picture, Maria Clopacka—and who is he, again?"
"He is my son," said she. "He died at Lake Dokociny in the fighting... Here is tea, ready to pour. There is brown sugar or honey and lemon to mix with it."
"Let me have the brown sugar."
The general parted his beard from his red, thick lips and drank his tea noisily.
"So you lost one and gained another son?" said the general.
"I have lost nothing," said Maria.
"But I have heard of a certain Stanislaw Clopacki," said he.
"There was nothing of me in him."
Poor Anna, standing behind her mistress, pressed her knuckles against her forehead but could not equal the pain that was already in her heart.
"I have known the man in Russia," said the general. The teacup slid from the hands of Maria Clopacka and crashed on the floor, pointing toward the general. But her smile of social courtesy remained fixed and unchanged on her face.
"He has been to me at certain times," said the general, "a friend."
Anna, in the background, began to weep.
"Anna, be hushed—be still," said Maria.
"I shall tell you about him," said the general.
"No," said Maria, "it is unlucky to speak about the dead after dark."
"He still lives," said the general, "and he repents."
It could be seen in his eyes that his voice strove to become larger, but the whisper could not alter.
"He speaks of the village and of his own people," said the general. "He is a man alone. He is very unhappy, Maria Clopacka."
"There are the living," said Maria, "and then there are the dead."
"Is there not repentance and prayers?" asked the general. "And is there not forgiveness, in the name of Jesus Christ?"
"Men forgive only because they forget," she said. "I have not forgotten."
The old proverb came slowly, heavily from her lips. She was always bloodless but now a still greater pallor streaked her face as though with chalk.
The general arose.
"God have mercy—God have mercy!" Anna was whimpering.
"Amen," said the general, "and farewell, Maria Clopacka." He pulled open the door of the house. Snow was falling aslant on the wind and the lamplight made a white dazzle before his face. He went out and the door closed after him, leaving in the room a long whisper like his voice.
"Maria Clopacka! Maria Clopacka!" cried Anna. "How can you let him go?"
"How could I keep General Repnin?" asked Maria, turning in her chair toward the zither and commencing to finger the strings clumsily.
"But it's Stach! It's Stach that you sent away!"
Maria Clopacka lifted her head but her eyes, instead of touching Anna, found something in the past and dwelt upon it.
"Do you think the dead rise and walk, Anna?" she asked in a trembling voice. She added, loudly: "There are no ghosts in this house!"
Anna shrank down into a chair. The world seemed to be stopped and embayed in a great stillness. She heard the wind beyond the house, the murmur of the fire in the stove, and the stiff fingers of Maria Clopacka picking out note by note the theme of the old song:
East wind, have you lost your way?
Is that why you wander so wildly?
Turn about. You are far from home;
But there no one will be glad of your coming.