Page images

a right to more land than he can dig with his own | tered the pale, fat man, in tones inarticulate with spade, I don't see what you can bring forward passion. against that argument."

[ocr errors]

Simply this," said Soboski, "that, strictly, in many cases, the land has been paid by the tenant, since first his ancestor occupied it, ten times its value. In feudal times, this sort of feudal service had a show of fairness-there was something like a fair bargain in the business. Then the lord was ever ready to protect the lives and property of those who, in return for that protection, tilled his ground and felled his woods. Then, too, they had but one master. Now they are obliged to pay taxes to the state from which we are exempt, and, besides working for us, to make roads for the government. In fact, as with all other relics of feudality, the meaning has flown, whilst the custom remains; and custom without meaning has no base, and cannot endure."

[ocr errors][merged small]

"And I tell you," said Soboski, calmly, "that you might as well think of reestablishing chivalry, and of riding forth in link-mail, with lance and shield, as of maintaining feudal rights in our day. They must fall. It remains for you to fall with them, or to modify your position, and make it possible for the century you live in."

"You don't see, gentlemen," said the thin, fierce man, with an expressive and bitter glance at the object of momentary animosity, "that all this fine talking is merely to explain that he won't be one of us. Why not stand out like a man, and say so at once?"


[ocr errors]

Really," said Stanoiki, we should like to know if you are with us or against us."

"Neither," replied Soboski. "I told you so from the first. I consider the whole affair as a mere dream. If I saw any chance of restoring Poland to happiness, you would see me one of the first in your ranks; but, convinced as I am that the whole will turn out to be one of those insensate efforts that have cost our country so much blood, and brought it neither profit nor honor, you cannot expect that I should warmly advocate your cause. You are misled by the committee in France,

I ask you, what will you do against the armies of Austria, Russia, and Prussia, so well organized, with such financial resources ?"

"A precious law that of Prussia!" said Lenin-who, in their turn, are deceived by distance. But, ski. "The noble must be satisfied with a capital, once paid down, equal to sixteen or twenty years of his revenue; after which time, his son, or himself, if he live, is minus that portion of his inheritance."

"You forget," one of the lawyers timidly put in," the interest derived from this capital."

"We have every true Polish heart with us!" said a young man, with enthusiasm.

"Well-that's good, so far as hearts go," said Soboski, dryly.

"Here, in these parts," said Soboski, "the "We have the whole of the clergy," said peasants only demand to change their feudal ser- another. "There is not a Polish-born priest that vices into an annual rent; always providing, ofwill not advance with the banner in one hand, and course, that the lease be hereditary. Well, it is the cross in the other." but a simple thing. The English system has not prevented the nobility of that country from being rich and powerful; why should some approximation to it be the ruin of ours?"

[ocr errors]

"Because," replied Stanoiki, one thing leads to another; and the English tenant will one day feel as much dissatisfaction in paying rent as our people do about the robot."


"And they fanaticize the mob, I understand. But the peasants?"

"Well," said Casimir, impetuously, "we 'll order them out, and see if they dare resist."

"That you will find your difficulty. My firm belief is, the only sufferers in all this will be yourselves. I wash my hands of it."

wont to do, for your share of the booty."

"And if we accomplish anything," said Lenin "There we differ again," said Soboski, laugh-ski, "you'll come in, as such prudent men are ing. "The English nobleman will, ultimately, lose his ground-rent, because that is the vestige of a time that has gone by, and has no more meaning. The game-laws, too, will be abolished."

Here voices became very clamorous in dissent. "Why not put the nobility down at once?" roared out Leninski.

"I am very sorry to distress you," said Soboski, laughing, "but, depend upon it, it will come to that, one day, all over Europe; like everything that dates from times gone by, it will become, first worthless, then ridiculous, and finally

"Now you deserve-you-you are a traitor to your country! You have no meaning!-I mean you have no opinion. You are a Jacobin!" splut

"We all know at what school of politeness Count Leninski has been bred," said Soboski, drawing himself up; "he need hardly say that he scorned the Court of Vienna."

[blocks in formation]

of their blood, I can take no offence-they'll be cold enough, some of them, before this time next year. Believe me, Stanoiki," continued the count, drawing the general aside, “I would willingly lay my old head in the grave to save my country the blow that is about to be struck at her."

"We differ in opinion, but I am sure at heart we feel alike," said Stanoiki, pressing cordially his friend's hand; "but I advise you, under the circumstances, not to linger here longer than necessary. It requires some practice of life to endure an opinion opposed to our own.”

"And to maintain calmness in discussion," said Soboski, "demands refinement and education, which, I am sorry to say, is wanting in many of our friends."

"I am afraid, my dear aunt," said the Countess Sophie," that your husband has just experienced a dreadful downfall. He is in full flight towards us, and there's that battering-ram, Florski, and that eel, Leninski, in pursuit. Let us receive the fugitive within our magic circle, and banish all intruders."

said Casimir, "with the most exquisite tobacco, just freshly prepared for the nargillis of the sultanas. I make it a point of honor to smoke no other, because it defrauds our liege lord the emperor."

"And do you get your pipes from the same quarter-that superb amber head-piece, for instance?"

"No; this head, I am forced to admit, is direct from St. Petersburg. But come, my friendly purveyor, out with your wares- -tobacco-bags, velvet tube-pieces, and what not."

The Armenian now displayed his store; every possible apparatus for smoking, curious slippers and purses, and a collection of daggers and pistols, all of which were speedily disposed of.

"There goes as bold a smuggler,” said Casimir, "with that venerable head and respectable beard, as ever crossed the frontier."

"Who would suspect such an apostolic-looking personage of so many peccadillos as he has in his pocket?" said one of the young men. "Ha! I see there is more in him than he shows-he is At that moment Soboski approached the ladies, gone in at the door leading to your father's apartfollowed by some of his opponents.


"Come, come, gentlemen," said the Countess Sophie, immediately making place for her uncle by her side, return to your post-we 'll permit no political discussion just now; so, unless you have some fine compliments to pay us, we don't acknowledge your right to intrude. What nothing to say?-Then make off with yourselves."

They retreated, still eying Soboski with anything but friendly looks. "Well, now that I have reëstablished peace," said the countess, pray tell us all about it, dear uncle, for I saw them on the point of eating you up. But you need not tell me-I see it all in your crest-fallen countenance; they won't make a present of the robot to the peasants. Is not that it ?”

"It is all very well to joke about it at present; but, a hundred years ago, you might, my dear niece, have seen your hall red with blood for a more insignificant quarrel than we have had to day."

"But we have become more civilized since then, I hope," said the countess.

[ocr errors]

Nevertheless," continued Soboski, "as the barbarous custom of duelling yet survives, and as I have no wish to have any of your guests' blood on my hands, or mine on theirs, you will, I am sure, not take it amiss if my wife and I start early


"Certainly not," said the countess. "I am grateful to you, and appreciate your motives as they deserve."

The following day having been fixed for a hunting excursion, the young men, ready equipped for the chase, were smoking over their coffee previous to departure, when the Armenian, whom Pavel had observed at the public-house, presented himself.

"Ha!-here comes my friend and tobacconist,"


"There goes, too, an arch-traitor, my uncle Soboski," said Casimir. "That's his carriage drawn up. I suppose I should go and bid him adieu. But no, I will not; let my mother say what she likes. A traitor is a traitor, if he were ten times one's relation."

"By the bye, is it true, Casimir, that you are to marry that lovely girl you sat near at dinner yesterday?"

"I suppose I must, one day," was the negligent reply.

“Well, I am surprised at your coldness. I declare I should like her exceedingly."

"She is very well in her way," said Casimir, "but I like my freedom better. I still hope we may be found too nearly allied to wed." "You are, then, related?"

"Not that I know of; but, in rummaging up musty family documents, who knows what may be discovered?"

"You are right to delay the thing, if possible," replied his friend; 66 one ought not to settle too early in life. But they are all ready down there, waiting only for us, I believe.”

The young men soon joined the party, which included the ladies, collected before the castle, impatient for departure, a wolf having been traced at a considerable distance across the country by the peasants; one of whose grievances was their being at all times liable to be taken from their own avo cations, and be fagged to death in the battues. When, however, the wolf was the game in view, their discontent diminished, for that animal was looked upon by them as a common foe, in whose destruction everybody was alike interested. On this occasion, therefore, they were no laggards, and had been out since daybreak, tracking the course of the game. The dogs, the largest and most ferocious that could be got, armed with spike

fered nothing; and you, I instantly perceived, had escaped scot-free, by the manner in which you looked after your furs and muffs. But I fear you will no more trust to my guidance."

Whilst he was thus speaking, Pavel, for it was he, scanned the ladies with a storm of mingled emotions. Such, and so fair a creature, would have been the little Constance, destined to be Leon's bride; and this was the bride report assigned to Casimir. Such the elegant vision his dreams had portrayed-such the face he loved to contemplate; and, side by side with the gentle and pleasurable emotion which youth and beauty awaken, ran, in strange discord, these bitter words :-“No, he is

collars, to protect their throats from the deadly" is a broken watch. Luckily, the sledge has suffang, bounded along beside the sledges which contained the ladies, each driven by one of the sportsmen, sitting astride a small seat behind them. Few things are more cheering than the sight of a long train of these sledges, diversified in form and coloring, gliding swiftly over the plains; some swanshaped, glittering with gilding; others like a car of triumph, glowing with the most rich and warm hues, and lined with the costly furs of the country, the horses' heads decorated with red and white plumes, and jingling bells fringing their scarlet housings; and few things are more delicious than the motion, which can be compared to nothing but flying. They went by as if borne upon the wind; and the bells of the horses-the baying of the dogs-not a man; he is a serf." The countess was right. the loud calls of the drivers-the silvery laughter of the ladies-swept along the snowy plain like the forms of a dream, so instantaneously did that burst of life and splendor give way to ice-wrapt stillness. The sun shone brightly on the snow, and made it glitter like diamonds on the trees; the sharp, bracing air was exhilarating; and the ladies, enveloped in their furs, gave themselves up to the full enjoyment of the hour. Casimir drove his mother and the young girl who, according to him, was destined to be his bride. He was an impetuous driver, and his sledge, distancing the rest, was soon lost to sight.

"Have a care, Casimir," said the countess. But his younger companion, clapping her hands in ecstasy, exclaimed-" How delightful! Quicker, quicker, Casimir!”

Encouraged by these gladsome accents, Casimir increased his speed. They now entered a small plantation, where the snow lay thin, and the protruding stumps of trees gave an occasional jolt to

their vehicle.

"We shall certainly be upset!" exclaimed the countess, now seriously alarmed.

A serf could not be a man. If he were, he could not bear his condition-he must break his bonds. Nature must have stamped his blood with a more sluggish flow, or he could not tamely submit to such unutterable scorn. No-they did submit, and were serfs, and remained serfs. Now and then, indeed, they shed a little blood-ay, blood. Pavel paused in his reverie, and pondered on the word. It effaced and swept away all injuries. Yes, nothing was left for the serf but to revel in hatred! It was a mercy, he thought, that those who trampled upon their rights should not seek to blind them by a false kindness; for cruelty would nerve the arm and steel the heart.

The other sledges now coming up, after a short pause, the parties separated; the men, with the dogs, and the peasants, penetrating into the wood, the ladies sledging back to the castle.

"You can't think, Countess Sophie," said the bride elect, "how the countenance of the man who came to help us haunts me; it was so dark and illboding."



'My dear, I never look at such people."

'They sometimes look at us, though," said the young girl, thoughtfully. "I wonder with what feelings?"

"That, of course, is perfectly immaterial," said the Countess Stanoiki.

Scarcely had she uttered the words, when the sledge struck violently against a prostrate tree; and Casimir was precipitated, by the shock, from his insecure seat, to some distance. The horses, feeling themselves free, now tore madly on; but After a long and vain pursuit, just as the day they had not proceeded far before the sledge turned began to give tokens of its rapid decline, the huntover, depositing the ladies in the snow that embedded ers got upon the track of a wolf, or rather wolves, the roots of the trees. A young peasant, standing for there evidently were several. No time was near, awaiting the hunters at this spot, threw him- now to be lost, for the light was fast fading. Exself before the horses, and having mastered them, cited by so many hours' fruitless efforts, the huntsproceeded to the assistance of the ladies. The men became clamorous. Some were for following countess accepted the proffered succor not only one track, some another; the greater part declaring without thanks, but without even casting a look on it to be necessary to keep together, as darkness him who tendered it. The young lady, whose would soon overtake them. The peasants, as anidress was slightly disarranged, showed some em-mated as their masters, created much confusion, barrassment at the presence of the stranger.

"How often am I to tell you," said the countess, "that delicacy towards such persons is downright indelicacy?"

"But he is a man," said the young girl in French. "No, my dear," answered the countess, coolly, "he is a serf."

By this time Casimir was at their side. "The only injury I have sustained," he said, laughing,

baffling all the efforts of the more experienced to establish order, by their eagerness to follow the game. At length Casimir, losing patience, struck off on a track by himself, leaving his companions to take what course they could. The track led him through a low, tangled underwood, on whose branches the hoar-frost was assuming that tint of purple gray which announces the immediate disappearance of the sun. Objects were every moment

growing more dim. He was on the point of retracing his steps, fearing lest he should be benighted in the wood, when, from behind a bush, not ten yards off, two large burning eyes glared red at him. Casimir instantly levelled his rifle, and touched the trigger. The sharp snap which followed, telling that his piece had missed fire, was accompanied by a loud, savage yell. The animal, almost in the act of springing forward, turned suddenly round, as if to repel some attack from behind; and, immediately after, endeavoring to effect a retreat, rolled over, not far from Casimir, transfixed with a short spear, such as are used by the peasants on such occasions. Bounding over the thicket, a man now closed, and grappled with him. A brief but fierce struggle ensued, of which Casimir remained the passive spectator. At one moment he saw the beast on the point of triumphing over the man. Quick as thought he sprang to the spot; but, before he reached it, the wolf lay expiring at the feet of its opponent, whose shoulder was lacerated by the animal's teeth and claws.

Casimir, secretly goaded by the superior agility and presence of mind displayed by an inferior, was transported beyond himself when he recognized in that inferior the object of his long-cherished animosity.

"How came you here? How dare you interrupt my sport? Who bid you strike that wolf? But you are the same insolent knave you ever were!"

"You would scarce have been a match for the brute," said Pavel, coolly measuring his young master with his eye, and then turning it upon the gaunt limbs of the monster at his feet.

From Graham's Magazine. THE FOUNTAIN IN WINTER.


THE northern winds are raw and cold,
And crust with ice the frozen mould;
The gusty branches lash the wall
With icicles that snap and fall.

There is no light on earth to-day-
The very sky is blank and gray;

Yet still the fountain's quivering shaft
Leaps upward, as when spring-time laughed.

No diamonds glitter on its brink,
No red-lipped blossoms bend to drink,
And on the blast its fluttering wing
Is spread above no kindred thing.

The drops that strike the frozen mould
Make all the garden doubly cold,
And with a chill and shivering pain
I hear the fall of sleety rain.

The music that in beamy May,
Told of an endless holiday,
With surly Winter's wailings blent,
Becomes his dreariest instrument.

The water's blithe and sparkling voice,
That all the summer said " Rejoice!"
Now pours upon the bitter air
The hollow laughter of despair.

"Touch me at

Casimir, incensed beyond endurance at his words and manner, strode towards him with hand uplifted, as if about to give vent to his long-restrained malignity in blows. Pavel drew back. "Stand off!" he said, firmly. your peril!—I will bear anything but that!" It was a lone place. There, at least, they stood but as man to man-the athletic peasant and the slender, effeminate-looking stripling; and should a struggle ensue, the issue could not be doubtful. Casimir felt this, and became proportionably infuriated.

"Vassal!" he cried, suffocating with rage. "How dare you dog my steps? How dare you strike my game?"

At that instant, several of the huntsmen broke through the copse. The young count's eyes were withdrawn from Pavel for one moment. That moment was enough; when he turned to seize his victim, the latter was nowhere visible. An imprecation burst from Casimir's compressed lips.

"You shall not always escape me thus!" he muttered, as he moved away to meet his party. "I'll make you pay for this to-morrow!”

The young men now declared it was time to leave the woods if they did not intend to take up their quarters there for the night; and, making their way through the underwood as they best could in the doubtful light, at length reached the spot where sledges awaited them, whose torches threw a red glare on the snow, as they flitted over the plains towards the chateau.

[blocks in formation]
[graphic][merged small][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]
« PreviousContinue »