By M. SADOVEANU
A house stood isolated in the middle of a garden, separated from the main group about the market-place.
It was an old house, its veranda was both high and broad and had big whitewashed pillars. The pointed roof was tiled and green with moss. I n front of the veranda, and facing south, stood two beautiful round lime-trees throwing out their shade.
One day in the month of August, the owners, Vladimir Savicky and Ana, his wife, were sitting in the veranda. Both were old, weather-beaten by the storms of many journeys and the misfortunes of life. The old man wore a long white beard and long white hair, which was parted down the middle and smooth on the top; he smoked a very long pipe, and his blue eyes gazed towards the plains which stretched away towards the sunset. The old woman, Ana, selected a nosegay of flowers from a basket. He was tall and vigorous still, she was alight with gentle movements. Forty years ago they left their ruined Poland, and settled in our country.
They kept an adopted daughter, and had a son of thirty years of age, a bachelor, and a good craftsman. They had lived for thirty years here in the old house, busying themselves with market gardening : for thirty years they had lived a sad, monotonous life in this place. They had been alone with their adopted child, with Magdalena ; Roman, their boy, had been roaming through the world for the last ten years.
Old Vladimir puffed away at his pipe as he stroked his beard; the warmth of the afternoon had made him lay aside his blue jacket. The old wife was choosing her flowers. A gentle breeze, laden with fragrance, came from the garden, from the trees heavy with fruit, and from the gay-coloured flowers. Shafts of light penetrated through the leafy limes, little patches of white light came from above, and played over the bright grass, green as the tree-frog. From time to time the quivering foliage quit a melodious rustle into the peaceful balcony.
At intervals the soft notes of a song floated through the open window.
Suddenly a resounding noise broke the stillness of the day. What was it? A carriage. The old man started, put down his pipe, and rose. The old woman put her head, wrapped in a white shawl, out over the railings. The rumbling vehicle, an ugly Jew upon the box, drew nearer, and pulled up outside the door of the old house. A strong, broad-shouldered young man descended, a big bundle in his right hand, a case in his left.
"Roman ! Roman I " cried the old lady in a feeble voice. She tried to rise but fell softly back beside the flowers.
"There, there, old lady, it is Roman," murmured the old man gaily, as he went down the stairs.
" Mr. Roman! " cried a gentle voice, and Magdalena's fair head appeared at the window.
Roman had let fall the bundle and thrown himself into his father's arms.
"Yes, old lady, it is Roman !" murmured Vladimir Savicky, with tears in his eyes. He embraced his son, and pressed him to his heart. " Yes, old lady, it is Roman!" That was all he could find to say.
"Mother," cried the young man, "I have not seen you for ten years."
The old mother cried silently, her son strained her to his breast, while the old man wandered round murmuring tearfully into his beard
"Yes, yes, old lady, it is our Roman."
As Roman Savicky straightened his strong frame and turned round, he saw a white face with blue eyes in the doorway. He stood transfixed with astonishment ; the girl watched him, smiling shyly.
" Ha! ha !" laughed old Savicky, "how now? Do you not know each other ? Ali I Kiss each other, you have known Magdalena ever since she was a child."
The young people approached each other in silence, the girl offered her cheek with eyelids lowered, and Roman kissed her.
"I did not recognize her;" said Roman,"she has grown so big."
His mother laughed softly. "You, too, Roman, you have grown much bigger-and handsome."
"Naturally our Roman is handsome;" said the old man, " our own Roman, old lady."
Again the mother kissed her son. Roman seated himself upon a chair in the veranda, the old man placed himself on his right, and the mother on the left ; they watched him, feasting their eyes upon him.
"My darling! my darling! " he said to the old woman, "it is long since I have seen you."
In the end they grew silent, looking intently at one another, smiling. The gentle rustle of the lime trees broke the heat and stillness of the August day.
"Whence do you come, Roman ? " questioned the old man suddenly.
" From Warsaw;" said his son, raising his head.
The old man opened wide his eyes, then he turned towards Ana.
" Do you hear that, old lady, from Warsaw ?"
The old lady nodded her head, and said wonderingly
"From Warsaw ! "
"Yes," said Roman, " I have journeyed throughout Poland, full of bitterness, and I have wandered among our exiled brothers in all parts of the world."
Profound misery rang in his powerful voice. The old people looked smilingly at him, lovingly, but without understanding him. All acute feeling for their country had long ago died away in their hearts. They sat looking happily into the blue eyes of their Roman, at his fair, smooth face, at his beautiful luxuriant hair.
The young man began to speak. Gradually his voice rose, it rang powerfully, fall of sorrow and bitterness. Where had he not been! He had been everywhere, and everywhere he had met exiled Poles, pining away among strangers, dying far from the land of their fathers. Everywhere the same longing, everywhere the same sorrow. Tyrants ruled over the old hearth, the ay of the oppressed rent the air, patriots lay in chains or trod the road to Siberia, crowds fled from the homes of their fathers, strangers swept like a flood into their places.
"Roman, Roman !" said the old woman, bursting into tears, "how beautifully you talk."
"Beautifully talks our Roman, old lady," said Vladimir Savicky sadly, " beautifully, but he brings us sad tidings." And in the old man's soul old longings and bitter memories began to stir. On the threshold
Magdalena stood dismayed and shuddered as she looked at Roman.
Suddenly two old men entered by the door. One had thick, grizzled whiskers, the other a long beard in which shone silver threads.
"Ah," cried the old Savicky, "here comes Palchevici, here comes Rujancowsky. Our Roman has come! Here he is! "
"We know;" said Rujancowsky gravely, "we have seen him."
"Yes, yes, we have seen him," murmured Palchevici. They both approached and shook Roman warmly by the hand.
"Good day and welcome to you! See, now all the Poles of this town are met together in one place;" said Rujancowsky.
"What?" questioned Roman. "Only these few are left ? "
"The others have passed away," said old Savicky sadly.
"Yes, they have passed away;' murmured Palchevici, running his fingers through his big grey whiskers.
They were all silent for a time.
"Old lady," said Vladimir Savicky, "go and fetch a bottle of wine and get something to eat too, perhaps Roman is hungry. But where are you? Where is Ana?" asked the old man, looking at Magdalena.
"Do not worry, she has gone to get things ready," replied the girl smilingly. "'Tis well ! tis well! Then turning towards the two Poles. "You do not know how Roman can talk. You should hear him. Roman, you must say it again."
The old wife came with wine and cold meat. She placed meat in front of her boy, and the wine before the older men. They all began to talk. But Roman's voice sounded melancholy in the stillness of the summer day. Then they began to drink to Roman's health, to the health of each one of them.
"To Poland ! " cried Roman excitedly, striking the table with his fist. And then he began to speak
"Do you realize how the downtrodden people begin to murmur and to agitate ? Soon there will rise a mighty storm which will break down the prison walls, the note of liberty will ring through our native land ! Ah, you do not know the anguish and the bitterness there ! Stranger-ridden and desolate! Since Kosciusko died there are exiles and desolation everywhere ! Mother," cried Roman, then turning towards the old woman, "give me the case from over there, I must sing something to you.'.
With these words his eyes darkened and he stared into space. The old people looked at him, much moved, their heads upon their breasts, not speaking a word. Quiet reigned in the old house, and in the garden there was peace ; a fiery sunset, crowned with clouds of flame, was merging into the green sea of the woods. Golden rays penetrated into the old veranda and shone on Roman's hair.
His mother handed him the case.
" Well,' said the young man, "I will sing you something with my cither. I will sing of our grief."
Then, beneath his fingers, the strings began to murmur as though awaking from sleep. Roman bent forward and began, the old people sat motionless round him.
Sad tones vibrated through the quiet of the old house, notes soft and sorrowful like some remote mournful cry, notes deep with the tremor of affliction; the melody rose sobbing through the clear sunset like the flight of some bird of passage.
In the souls of the old people there rose like a storm the clamour of past sorrows. The song lamented the ruin of fair lands ; they seemed to listen, as in a sad dream, to the bitter tears of those dying for their native land. They seemed to see Kosciusko, worn with the struggle, covered in blood, kneeling with a sword in hand.
Finis Poloniae ! Poland is no more ! Ruin everywhere, death all around ; a cry of sorrow rose ; the children were torn from their unhappy land to pine away and die on alien soil !
The chords surged, full of grief, through the clear sunset. Then slowly, slowly, the melody died away as though tired with sorrow until the final chord finished softly, like a distant tremor, ending in deathlike silence.
The listeners seemed turned to atone. Roman leant his head upon his hand, and his eyes, full of pain, turned towards the flaming sunset. His chin trembled ; his mind was full of bitter memories. The old men sat as though stunned, like some wounded creatures, their heads upon their breasts ; the old mother cried softly, sighing, her eyes upon her Roman. As the young man turned his eyes towards the door he saw two bright tears in Magdalena's blue eyes; amid a deep silence his own eyes gazed into the girl's while the last crimson rays faded away from the woods.
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