Holy Thursday/Good Friday/Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday
As described in Reymont's
"The Peasants" (Chłopi)
By dint of wrangling she got her own way, and started off in the large britzka, with a couple of good
horses, and the driver on the seat in front, after the fashion of a farmer’s goodwife.
“Get some gilt paper, some red, and of all the other colours!” Vitek screamed to her from within the garden, where he had been digging away ever since dawn. Hanka intending to plant cabbages there that very day. Time passed, however, and she did not come; so he ran out into the road, and went off with the other boys twirling rattles along the hedgerows. (No bells, as is the custom on Maundy Thursday, were to be heard any more.) The weather was rather quieter, but less cheerful, than on the preceding day. The nights had been cold; the morning was dewy, hazy and cool till late in the forenoon: the swallows twittered shivering under the eaves, and the geese, driven to the pond, uttered louder and harsher notes. But, notwithstanding, the whole village had been up and by ere sunrise. Long before breakfast-time, there had been the noisy hum of strenuous work; and the children, sent out of the cabins, where they would have been in the way, filled the lanes with the din of their whirring rattles. At Mass, celebrated on that day without bells or organ, there were but few present. No one had any time to go to church. All necessary preparations for the great feast had to be made now. Chief of these was the baking of loaves and cakes; and, in well-nigh every hut, both doors and windows were now fast closed, lest the dough might fail to rise. The fires burned bright, and the smoke of the chimneys went up to the cloudy sky. This, too, was the reason why not infrequently the cattle lowed beside their empty mangers, and the swine rooted in the gardens, and the poultry wandered about the roads, and the children were allowed to do as they pleased—fight each other, or climb trees for birds’ nests. All the women were so absorbed in the kneading and rolling out of the dough for loaves and cakes, and all that pertained thereto, that they had forgotten nearly everything else besides. And in every home this bustle and stir was the same: whether at the miller’s, the organists, or the priest’s; whether amongst the farmers of the Komorniki. However poor, they had—were it by loan or even by selling their last half-bushel of wheat—to prepare the banquet of the Hallow-fare, in order to get, at least once a year, meat and other dainties in abundance. As there were not baking-ovens in every hut, makeshifts were built up in the orchards, and girls ran about, feeding them with dry faggots and logs. And from time to time there were seen women uncouthly attired and white with four, carefully carrying dressers and kneading-troughs, full of cakes as yet unbaked and hidden from the air, as the statues of the saints are seen carried in holy procession. There was work, too, to be done in the church. The priest-man had fetched a number of young fir-trees from the woods; and the organist together with Roch and Ambrose, were adorning Our Lord’s Sepulchre.
When Good Friday came, the work was still more absorbing, so that but few noticed the arrival of Yanek, the organist’s son, who had come over for the holidays, and was going about the village, now and then taking a peep into the cottage windows.
Entering anywhere was out of the question: the passages nay, even the orchard paths were blocked up with presses and bedsteads and all sorts of furniture; for on that day they whitewashed the cabins in all haste, scrubbed the floors and cleaned the holy images that had been taken outside. A great hurry-scurry and confusion prevailed everywhere: people were running about urging the others to make haste and thereby increasing the turmoil. Even the children were now employed to clear the premises of mud, and sprinkle the yellow sand everywhere. It being an ancient custom to eat nothing warm from Good Friday till Easter Sunday, the people chose to suffer a little hunger in our Lord’s honour, eating only dry bread and potatoes that had been roasted. The hurry and bustle were just the same at Boryna’s, with the difference that there were more hands to work and less trouble about money, so that all was ready sooner. On Friday, at the first glimmer of dawn, Hanka had together with Pete, finished whitewashing the cabin and outhouses, after which, and a hasty toilet, she had gone to church, were the other women were already assembled to be present at the carrying of the Lord’s Body to the Sepulchre. In the cabin, a big fire was blazing up the chimney; and on it, in a vast cauldron that a couple of men could hardly lift, an entire ham was simmering, while sausages bobbed up and down in a smaller pot; from these the room was penetrated with so strong and delicious a scent that Vitek, busy whittling toys for the little ones, would again and again lift up his nose, and sniff and draw a deep breath of longing. Before the fire-place, and in the brightest light of the flames, set Yagna and Yuzka, amicably engaged in colouring the Easter eggs, though each vied with the other and kept her methods secret. Yagna washed hers first in tepid water, dried them, and then overlaid them with dots and patches of melted wax, and plunged them successively into the seething contents of tree small pots. It was tedious work; the wax scaled off sometimes, or the eggs broke under her hands, or burst in the boling; but she succeeded with about thirty. And then, oh what things of beauty they were! The idea of Yuzka as Yagna’s rival! Hers had been boiled with ears of rye and onion-skins that stained them a pretty reddish-brown, which she had embellished with variegated white and yellow patterns, uncommonly pleasing to the eye…. But, when she saw Yagna’s work, she remained open-mouthed with amazement, presently followed by vexation and annoyance—Why, they dazzled the eyes with their red and yellow and violet tints, and coulours like field of blue flax-flowers! And upon those backgrounds there were painted such wonders that she could not believe here eyes: on one, cocks perched upon a fence and crowing open-beaked; on another, a lot of geese hissing at a sow flying over a crimson field, and there fantastic traceries of a bewildering type, and like the frost patterns on the panes in winter. Wondering, she gazed upon them again and again. Hanka too, looked at them when she got back from church with Yagustynka, but said not one word. Only the old woman, after a glance at them all, gave vent to her surprise: “How in the world have ye come by such fancies? Dear, dear!” “How? Why, they just flowed from my head to my fingers.”
She was pleased with herself.
“ Ye might take a few to his Reverence.”
“I shall offer him some; it may be that he will accept them.”
“His Reverence, indeed! Never saw such marvels! Will be
thunderstruck with them!” Hanka muttered ironically,
when Yagna had gone from the room.
That evening many villagers stayed up late.
It was a black night, overcast, though still. The mill clattered
on steadily, and the lamps gleamed in the hut-windows till
close on midnight, throwing many streaks of light into the
lanes and over the trembling surface of the pond.
Saturday came, quite warm and a little hazy, but brighter
than the previous day; so that the people, notwithstanding
the hard work done already, rose blithely to encounter what
Outside the church was a great noise and tumult; for,
according to immemorial custom, on that day (which brought
Lent to a close) they had come together in the early morning
to give a funeral to the zur (Translator’s Note: zur is a sort of soup made of flour and
water, mixed with bran and left to ferment till it is sour. It is then boiled with various seasonings.) and herrings on which they had been feeding all Lent through.
Vitek let himself be enticed into carrying the pot, which dangled from his should in a net, whilst another little fellow, at his side, dragged along the ground a herring cut out of wood and attached to a string. They went foremost, the others trooping behind with a deafening noise of rattles and shouts.
Yasyek directed the procession: though somewhat idiotic in life, he had quite enough brains for such tomfoolery. They went in procession round the pond and church, and turned off to the poplar road where the funeral was to take place… when suddenly Yasyek struck at the pot with a spade and shivered it to pieces! And the zur, with all its filth, poured over Vitek’s clothes!
This practical joke made everybody laugh very heartily, except Vitek, who flew at Yasyek and fought with him and with the other boys until, overpowered by numbers, he was force to flee roaring home.
There he got a beating besides from Hanka, for having ruined his coat; and then she sent him to the woods to get sprays of pine-boughs for decorations.
Pete laughed at him into the bargain; nor did even Yuzka show him sympathy. She was busily engaged in strewing all the premises as far as the road with sand brought into the churchyard; its yellow was deepest there. She scattered it over the whole drive up to the porch, and all round the eaves, encircling the cabin with a saffron-coloured girdle.
And now, in Boryna’s cabin, they began to set forth the victuals that were to be blessed by the priest.
The great room had been well scoured and sanded, the windows, cleaned, and all traces of cobwebs brushed away from the images on the walls. Yagna’s bed, too, had been covered with a beautiful shawl.
Hanka, Yagna and Dominikova, working together, though in all but absolute silence, had dragged a large table near the corner window, parallel to the bed where Boryna lay, and covered it with a white linen table-cloth, the edges of which Yagna had embellished with a border of red paper fantastically cut out. In the centre, and opposite the window, they then set up a big crucifix, adorned with paper flowers, and in fromt of this, upon a dish turned bottom upwards, a lamb moulded out of butter by Yagna so cleverly that it seemed alive. Its eyes were rosary beads; its tail ears, hoofs and the banner over it were made of crisp red wool! After this, there came a first row of great loaves and wheaten cakes large and small, white or tawny; some stuck all over with raisins (certain of these being specially made for Yuzka and the little ones): others, again, were very dainty ones all of curds, or frosted with sugar and sprinkled with poppy-seed. And, quite at the end, there stood, on one side, an enormous dish full of great snaky coils of sausages, and hard-boiled eggs (white, for they had been shelled) within the coils to adorn them; on the other, a pan containing entire ham, and a huge piece of so-called “head-cheese,” all these gay and coloured eggs strewn about. But the whole affair still awaited the coming of Vitek with the sprays and sprigs of pine-needles to give it the finishing touch.
As they brought this work to an end, several neighbours came in with dishes and baskets containing their own Easter victuals, which they put near the table on a side-bench. There was not time enough for the priest to go round to all the cabins, so he had told them to bring their Easter feast to a few of the largest cottages.
Lipka being his own dwelling-place, he used to give the blessing thee last of all, and very often only near nightfall. The people, consequently, prepared everything early, that they might be in church in time for the “blessing of the fire and of the water,” having previously extinguished their own fires at home, which were subsequently to be again lighted at the newly consecrated flame.
Yuzka ran to church for that purpose; but she had to wait very long, and it was nearly midday when she returned, carefully protecting the light of a taper just kindled in church. Along with the fire, she brought a bottle of holy water. Hanka immediately lit the fire-wood set ready for kindling, and first of all drank a gulp of holy water, piously believed to preserve folk from ailments of the throat; she then gave some to each of the others in turn, and lastly sprinkled with it the live stock and the fruit-trees of the orchard, that the cattle might bring forth their young without trouble, and the trees about with fruit.
Later, seeing that neither Yagna nor the smith’s wife had taken any care at all of Boryna, she washed his body with tepid water, combed his matted hair, and changed his linen and bedding; he meanwhile lying as usual with blankly staring eyes. After noontide, it was a sort of half-holiday. Although some people had still a little of the more tiresome work to finish, the most part were getting themselves ready for the coming feast, combing and washing and scrubbing the children, till many a hut resounded to their cries and screams.
It was only just before nightfall that the priest came in from the outlying villages. He wore his surplice; Michael, the organist’s pupil went after him, bearing a holy-water pot and sprinkling-brush. Hanka came to meet him at the gate.
He came in quickly, being in a hurry, said the prayers, sprinkled “God’s gifts,” and cast a glance on Boryna’s livid hairy face. “No change? Eh?” “None. The wound is all but healed, yet he is no better.” “The boy who sold me the stork—where is he?”
Vitek turned very red, and Yuzka pushed him forward.
“Ye have trained it well: it keeps the fowls out of the garden, and none dare venture in.—Here are five kopeks for you.—Are any of you going to see your husbands tomorrow?” [Note: Most of the men of the village were jailed for brawling during a dispute with the landlord.]
“Half the village at least.”
“Good; but behave yourselves, and do not brawl.—And come to the Resurrection Service now: it is at ten.—“should anyone fall asleep, Ambrose has orders to put him out of the church.”
Several people followed him as far as the miller’s.
But Vitek, showing the copper coin to Yuzka, said crossly:
“My stork will not drive his fowls out for long. Oh no!”
The darkness fell slowly. Dusk came down over the earth, drowning cottages, orchards and fields in a bluish semi-transparent murk. The low cabin-walls alone were here and there dimly visible. Athwart the orchards flashed a a few flickering lights, and a pale half-moon gleamed in the sky. It was the calm of Easter eve that enveloped the village; through the darkness, the church-windows, high above the cottages, were seen shedding floods of light afar, and out of the great wide-open door poured streams of splendor. Then the first carts came rumbling in, stopping in front of the churchyard; and the people arrived on foot from the farthest hamlets. Many also came from the cottages of Lipka; not infrequently the doors would open and a streak of light flash forth, plunging into the jet-black pond; and the patter of footsteps and half-hushed murmurs came multitudinous through the warm and misty air. Greeting one another on the way, the crowd, like a river that rises slowly but unceasingly, pressed onward to the “Resurrections Service.” In Boryna’s cabin and the surrounding outhouses, no one remained on guard but the dogs, old Bylitsa and Vitek, who was hard at work with Maciek, Klemba’s son, making a cock that was to perform wonderful feats a few days later. Hanka first sent Yazka to church, along with the little ones and Pete; she herself, she said, would follow presently. Yet, when dressed, she lingered on, awaiting something, it seemed; for she continually went out and watched the road from the passage. When she had seen
Yagna set out with Magda, and heard the smith in talk with the Voyt on their way to church, she returned to the hut, and showed something in silence to the old man. He thereupon went outside to watch, while she walked on tiptoe to her father-in-law’s store-room…. A good half-hour elapsed before she came out, carefully buttoning something in her bodice. Her eyes sparkled; her hands were shaking;.
Murmuring incoherent words, she went on to the “Resurrection Service.”
It was pitch-dark in the lanes; in every cottage all the lights were out; the laggards were now dropping in the church. Outside stood a number of carts, with horses unharnessed, whose pawing and snorting made their presence heard in the gloom. Close to the belfry, several Manor-house coaches loomed apart.
Hanka, on entering the porch was, set something straight in her bodice, loosened her shawl that wrapped her too closely, and vigorously elbowed her way to the pews.
The church was very full indeed. The close-pressed congregation was massed in the aisles; and, with mingled prayers, ejaculations and coughs, they swayed and swung from wall to wall, till the banners stuck in the pews , and the fir saplings which adorned the church, began to wave also.
Scarcely had she pushed through to her place, when the priest began the service.
They fell on their knees devoutly, and the press came still greater,till all knelt close together, like a field of heads--a cluster of human plants--but with eyes swiftly darting and and flying up to the high altar, whereupon stood the figure of Jesus, risen from the dead, with bare limbs, draped only in a crimson mantle, holding His banner in His Hand, and showing His five wounds to them all!
By degrees their prayers grew intensely fervent; words uttered low, and presently sighs, came welling up to their lips, like the sounds or raindrops falling on leaves; and then their heads bent lower still, their arms were stretched forth towards the altar beseechingly, and stifled weeping was heard. Under the shadow of the dark naves with their lofty pillars, the crowd seemed as clumps of brushwood amongst the great trees of some immemorial forest; for, though the altar was ablaze with tapers, the church itself was shrouded in gloom, and the black night crept in through the windows and the wide-open portal.
In the pews that stood on either side of the sanctuary, the ladies from the manors of Rudka, Modlista, and Volka were reading out of prayer-books; at the sacristy-door several squires stood talking to each other; gaudily arrayed, the miller's wife and the organist's were standing close to the high altar on either side.
Alas! it was the greatest festival in the whole year--Easter!
Vol.3 SPRING, pp. 100-110; Translated from the original Polish by Michael H. Dzierwicki, Reader of English Literature at the University of Cracow. This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights. This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.