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Forebodings Two Sketches part 5

This condition of lonely self-torment lasted a long while, and increased his exasperation.

And then, one day, he noticed that his healthy foot was growing stiff and the ankle swelling. When the head-surgeon came on his daily rounds, the patient confided his fear to him. The doctor examined the emaciated limb, unobserved lanced the abscess, perceived that the probe reached to the bone, rubbed his hands together and looked into the peasant`s face with a sad, doubtful look.

Better off than in your cottage

“This is a bad job, my good fellow. It may mean the other foot; was that what you were thinking of? And you are a bad subject. But we will do it for you here; you will be better off than in your cottage, we will give you plenty to eat.” And he passed on, accompanied by his assistant. At the door he turned back, bent over the sick man, and furtively, so that no one should see, passed his hand kindly over his head.

The peasant`s mind tjecame a blank; it was as if some one had unawares dealt him a blow in the dark with a club. He closed his eyes and lay still for a long time . . . until an unknown feeling of calm came, over him.

There is an enchanted, hidden spot in the human soul, fastened with seven locks, which no one and nothing but that picklock, bitter adversity, can open.

Through the lips of the self-blinded (Edipus, Sophocles makes mention of this secret place. Within it are hidden marvelous joy, sweet necessity, the highest wisdom.

As the poor fellow lay silently on his bed, the special conception that arose in his mind was that of Christ walking on the waves of the raging sea, quelling the storm.

Henceforward through long nights and wretched days he was looking at everything from an immeasurable distance, from a safe place, where all was calm and wholly well, whence everything seemed small, slightly ludicrous and foolish, and yet lovable.

“And may the Lord Jesus .. . may He give His peace to all people,” he whispered to himself. “Never mind, this will do as well for me!”

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Forebodings Two Sketches part 4

Everything real seemed to disappear; only dimly lighted, vacant space remained, pervaded by the smell of chloroform. He seemed to be in the interior of a huge cone, stretching along the ground like a tunnel. Far away in the distance, where it narrowed towards the opening, there was a sparkling white spot; if he could get there, he might escape. He seemed to be traveling day and night towards that chink along unending spiral lines running within the surface of the tunnel; he traveled under compulsion and with great effort, slowly, like a snail, although within him something leaped up like a rabbit caught in a snare, or as if wings were fluttering in his soul.

He knew what was beyond that chink. Only a few steps would lead him to the ridge under the wood … to his own four strips of potato-field! And whenever he roused himself mechanically from his apathy he had a vision of the potato-harvest. The transparent autumn haze in the fields was bringing objects that were far off into relief, and making them appear perfectly distinct. He saw himself together with his young wife, digging beautiful potatoes, large as their fists.

Bits of sticks

On the hillock, amid the stubble, the herdsmen were assembled in groups, their wallets slung round them; they were crouching on their heels, had collected dry juniper and lighted a fire; with bits of sticks they were scraping out the baked potatoes from the ashes. The rising smoke scented the air fragrantly with juniper.

At times, when he was better and more himself, when the fever tormented him less, he sank into the state of timidity and apprehension known only to those harassed almost beyond human endurance and to the dying. Fear oppressed him till his whole being shrank into something less than the smallest grain; he was hurled by fearful sounds and overawing obsessions into a bottomless abyss.

At last the wound on his foot began to heal, and the fever to abate. His mind returned from that other world to the familiar one, and to reflecting on what was taking place before his eyes. But the nature of these reflections had changed. Formerly he had felt self-pity arising from terror; now it was the wild hatred of the wounded man, his over-powering desire for revenge; his rage turned as fiercely even upon the unfortunate ones lying beside him as upon those who had maimed him. But another idea had taken even more powerfully possession of his mind; his thoughts darted forward like a pack of hounds on the trail, in frantic pursuit of the power which had thus passed sentence on him.

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Forebodings Two Sketches part 3

“Let my fate go whither it listeth.”

In the darkest corner of a ward, in the bed marked number twenty- four, a farm laborer of about thirty years of age had been lying for several months. A black wooden tablet, bearing the words “Caries tuberculosa,” hung at the head of the bed, and shook at each movement of the patient. The poor fellow`s leg had had to be amputated above the knee, the result of a tubercular decay of the bone. He was a peasant, a potato-grower, and his forefathers had grown potatoes before him. He was now on his own, after having been in two situations; had been married for three years and had a baby son with a tuft of flaven hair. Then suddenly, from no cause that he could tell, his knee had pained him, and small ulcers had formed. He had afforded himself a carriage to the town, and there he had been handed over to the hospital at the expense of the parish.

He remembered distinctly how on that autumn afternoon he had driven in the splendid, cushioned carriage with his young wife, how they had both wept with fright and grief, and when they had finished crying had eaten hard-boiled eggs: but what had happened after that had all become blurred—indescribably misty. Yet only partially so.

Inexorable and brutal force

Of the days in the hospital with their routine and monotony, creating an incomprehensible break in his life, his memory retained nothing; but the unchanging grief, weighing like a slab of stone on a grave, was ever present in his soul with inexorable and brutal force during these many months. He only half recalled the strange wonders that had been worked on him: bathing, feeding, probing into the wound, and later on the operation. He had been carried into a room full of gentlemen wearing aprons spotted with blood; he was conscious also of the mysterious, intrepid courage which, like a merciful hand, had supported him from that hour.

After having gazed at the awe-inspiring phenomena which surrounded him in the semicircle of the hospital theater, he had slept during the operation. His simple heart had not worked out the lesson which sleep, the greatest mistress on earth, teaches. After the operation everything had been veiled by mortal lassitude. This had continued, but in the afternoon and at night they had mixed something heavy, like a stone ball, into his drinking-cup, and waves of warmth had flowed to the toes of his healthy foot from the cup. Thoughts chased one another swiftly, like tiny quicksilver balls through some comer of his brain, and while he lay bathed in perspiration, and his eyelids closed of their own accord, not in sleep but in unconsciousness, he had been pursued by strange, half-waking visions.

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Forebodings Two Sketches part 2

“Anton, my dear fellow,” the other, said, “well, you understand what I mean; God knows. You may be sure . . . confound it all!”

The second bell sounded, and then the third. The sympathizing friend stepped out of the carriage, and, as the train started, he waved an odd kind of farewell greeting, as if he were threatening him with his fists.

In the carriage were a number of poor people, Jews, women with enormously wide cloaks, who had elbowed their way to their seats, and sat chattering or smoking.

The student stood up and looked out of the window without seeing. Lines of sparks like living fire passed by the grimy window-pane, and balls of vapor and smoke, resembling large tufts of wool, were dashed to pieces and hurried to the ground by the wind. The smoke curled round the small shrubs growing close to the ground, moistened by the rain in the valley. The dusk of the autumn day spread a dim light over the landscape, and produced an effect of indescribable melancholy. Poor boy! Poor boy!

Bounds of conscious thought

The loneliness of boundless sorrow was expressed in his weary look as he gazed out of the window. I knew that the pivot on which all his emotions turned was the anxiety of uncertainty, and that beyond the bounds of conscious thought an unknown loom was weaving for him a shadowy thread of hope. He saw, he heard nothing, while his vacant eyes followed the balls of smoke. As the train traveled along, I knew that he was miserable, tired out, that he would have liked to cry quietly. The thread of hope wound itself round his heart: Who could tell? perhaps his father was recovering, perhaps all would be well.

Suddenly (I knew it would come), the blood rushed from his face, his lips went pale and tightened; he was gazing into the far distance with wide-open eyes. It was as if a threatening hand, piercing the grief, loneliness and dread that weighed on him, was pointing at him, as if the wind were rousing him with the cry: “Beware!” His thread of hope was strained to breaking-point, and the naked truth, which he had not quite faced till that minute, struck him through the heart like a sword.

Had I approached him at that instant, and told him I was an omniscient spirit and knew his village well, and that his father was not lying dead, he would have fallen at my feet and believed, and I should have done him an infinite kindness.

But I did not speak to him, and I did not take his hand. All I wished to do was merely to watch him with the interest and insatiable curiosity which the human heart ever arouses in me.

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Forebodings Two Sketches part 1

Stefan Zeromski (1864-1925)

Zeromski is an intensely dynamic writer. Not so popular as his older contemporary Prus, he excels in the psychological analysis of his characters. In the story that follows, we feel the influence of the late Nineteenth Century Russian novelists. Zeromski began by writing stories of modem life, then produced a series of historical novels, and finally returned to his first manner. His short stories are sombre studies of character.

The present version, translated by Else C. M. Benecke, is reprinted from Polish Tales, Oxford University Press, by permission of the publisher.

Forebodings Two Sketches

I had spent an hour at the railway station, waiting for the train to come in. I had stared indifferently at several ladies in turn who were yawning in the comers of the waiting-room. Then I had tried the effect of making eyes at a fair young girl with a small white nose, rosy cheeks, and eyes like forget-me-nots; she had stuck out her tongue (red as a field-poppy) at me, and I was now at a loss to know what to do next to kill time.

Fortunately for me two young students entered the waiting-room. They looked dirty from head to foot, mud-bespattered, untidy, and exhausted with traveling. One of them, a fair boy with a charming profile, seemed absent-minded or depressed. He sat down in a comer, took off his cap, and hid his face in his hands. His companion bought his ticket for him, sat down beside him, and grasped his hand from time to time.

“Why should you despair? All may yet be well. Listen, Anton.” “No, it`s no good, he is dying, I know it … I know . . . perhaps he is dead already.”

“Don`t believe it! Has your father ever had this kind of attack before ?” “He has; he has suffered from his’heart for three years. He used to drink at times. Think of it, there are eight of us, some are young children, and my mother is delicate. In another six months his pension would have been due. Terribly hard luck!”

“You are meeting trouble half-way, Anton.”

The bell sounded, and the waiting-room became a scene of confusion. People seized their luggage and trampled on each other`s toes; the porter who stood at the entrance-door was stormed with questions. There was bustle and noise everywhere. I entered the third-class carriage in which the fair-haired student was sitting. His friend had put him into it, settling him in the comer-seat beside the window, as if he were an invalid, and urging him to take comfort. It did not come easy to him, the words seemed to stick in his throat. The fair-haired boy`s face twitched convulsively, and his eyelids closed over his moist eyes.

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