LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 26, No.2 - Summer 1980
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1980 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
The farmstead is very large, near a stream and a dark wood. The lands are bordered by a county road. The farmstead is well kept and boasts a modern well and pump, worthy of any house in the city. Beside the main house is a large, old orchard.
One daughter, Aldona, is now at home, working on her law thesis. The other, Maryte, lives in Kaunas, studying and working.
A letter had just arrived from Maryte, "My dearest Petrelis will visit you today. He'll surely ask you for my hand. Keep him there until Sunday. I shan't be able to come until then."
The farmer is whitewashing the trees in the orchard with lime. His wife runs out and calls, "Pa, come in and get ready. Maryte's fiancι will be here any minute."
"Let him come. I'm not going to take a stick to him or sic the dogs on him."
"Oh, hush up! Who ever heard of meeting a city gentleman the way you're dressed? Our daughters are in college, so we have to look decent too."
"You've gotten to be a little high class. You wear your Sunday clothes every day and don't do a thing."
"The help does the dirty work, you old goat. I just have to make sure everything's in order. Go get changed."
"Oh Ma, don't get picky. Help me fish this bug out of my shirt. It's crawling all over my back."
"You'll send me to my grave! It's so hard for an intelligent woman to put up with a stupid stump like you. You hang up expensive, storebought curtains, and he wipes his hands on them. You tell the help to wax the floor and he invites all his cronies over, who track in all kinds of dirt. They sit around like nothing's nothing, crank the Victrola, fool around, listen to music and spit on the floor. It doesn't fit you to live like the small-time farmers around here. The way they dress just isn't good enough for you but look at yourself! Your clothes are a mess and you haven't had a haircut in ages."
"Ma, why don't you zip into town and get a barber let him make a real dandy out of your old man. Damn it all! The old lady's become real proper."
"Now he's going to badmouth me", his wife bursts into tears. "God will punish you for all the tears I've shed because of you."
"Don't argue, Papa go get changed. You are fighting because you've got it too good", Aldona says and starts to hustle her father into the house. But just now, all three notice a man in the road, turning towards them.
"The son-in-law's here! Now, there's a man for you, by golly. No hat, whistling, young. I was like that once."
"He's come on foot . . ." And the woman grew sad, as though having sat down near her mother's grave. "Couldn't he have come by car? Boy, what a son-in-law. Either he's poor or stupid. I don't want a bum for a son-in-law. That Maryte! She seems smart, serious, and she picks a bum. 1 don't even want to welcome him."
But his wife slams the door.
The son-in-law is not far off now. They watch as he picks a blade of grass, pops it in his mouth and chews on it. That's not enough he stops a farmhand enroute to the fields with a load of manure and chats with him. One must have cracked a joke, since both double over howling. He offers the farmhand a cigarette and both have a smoke. He stands and watches as the farmhand drives off.
"Now he's just going to stand there", giggles Aldona and puts both hands on the orchard fence. "There are few like him in Kaunas. He looks like a real live wire. How Maryte will be able to control him, I don't know."
The son-in-law looks around one more time, taking in the whole spread, wondering whether or not to enter it. Aldona suddenly draws her hanky from a sleeve and waves it.
"Stop that, Aldona. Ma will notice and that'll be it", laughs her father and hitches up his sagging trousers.
The young man draws close and smiles at Aldona.
"Did you call?"
"No, I was pestered by a bee, and barely got rid of it with my handkerchief."
"It must have been difficult for it to leave you. Either your eyes or your hair drew it near. It must have confused your eyes with the blossoms in the field they are so blue. I just don't know what you call them." And turning to the farmer, he adds,
"Not just now."
"There are quite a few on the other farms. If one attacks you, watch out: you can say good-bye to your trousers. It's a good thing I carry a needle and thread with me. I've had to patch my pants twice. Boy, is your orchard huge the whole spread is beautiful. If you want, I'll give you a hand with that whitewashing, old-timer."
"Fine, just that you'll get yourself dirty."
"Clothes, Pops, just aren't important."
"Talk that way to Ma and I don't know what'll happen. At any rate, it seems we'll see fine doings today: I can see why my brow was twitching this morning. I hope you don't mind that I'm not dressed up. You know, I just didn't have the time. No matter, eh?"
"What nonsense!" and he immediately turned to Aldona. "You're standing here, m'am, waiting. For spring, perhaps? But it's here already. I'm always waiting for spring and I can feel it's here. Tread on soft earth and you feel it's alive. Stand on the fields and the wind glides over your cheeks. It seems as if suddenly someone will come, someone just like you, miss, bringing what a body needs most. But man has needs daily."
"Listen, son, speak softly. We'll all get it, if Ma overhears such talk. You speak your own mind and you're not shy about it. Aldona, go inside, 1 don't want any more trouble."
"Maybe I should leave?" asked the son-in-law.
"What are you starting up again for, son? Stay, what he heck, just don't overdo it with Aldona, hear?"
"You know, I really want to take your picture. As for my jokes, if any, please excuse them. But the young lady doesn't even want to have her picture taken."
"Enough tomfoolery", and Aldona withdrew.
"Why did she get insulted?" puzzled the son-in-law, sitting down under a tree. "I'll just rest here awhile and won't bother you anymore. You know, it feels so good to walk! Spring's everywhere, there are no clouds and everything's growing. What do you think, will the war start soon?"
"I won't be drafted."
"But 1 will, and yet this wood will remain, and the wind will be just the same. Got any fish in the stream?"
"Yup. A lot."
"That's good. I like to fish. You just stand on the shore and that's it. You smoke?"
Cigarette smoke floats and disappears among the appletree's leaves.
"Let's go inside. It's not nice to Ma. The woman's waiting, yet you're sitting here, as if you were joking . . ."
"But is she really waiting?"
"Of course. She's even dressed up."
"So, your wife's still young and likes to sit around and joke with company?"
"Mind your tongue. God help us if she heard that. I'd catch it, too."
"You've talked so much about Ma's sharp tongue. How am I supposed to go in now?"
"Somehow, son. Ship in backwards, if you can."
"But I'm too lazy to get up. Do you play chess by any chance?"
"Is there any question! The best player in the county! It's a rare person around here who plays, and them I beat. I've been playing since I was a kid. As soon as you sit down with me you'll see it's tougher playing me than wooing my daughter."
"I like your daughter."
And both went inside.
The farmhouse is very clean, the table set. Next to it stands Mother and very reluctantly watches as the son-in-law enters. Quite undisturbed, he takes her hand, shakes it, but doesn't kiss it.
"Now, we're in for it", murmurs the farmer and goes to his room. "We're done for. You'd better come here."
"just a moment. I'm chatting with Ma."
"Polite people use other, more respectful names, in addressing their elders. I believe you're from the city, so you should know a thing or two about manners."
"How's a person to keep track of all these manners? I just need enough to get by. You don't live too badly here. Other places you go into don't have any floors or all window panes, just smoke and ragged children running around." He falls silent, looks down at his shoes, then at Aldona, and says, "Sometimes it happens that you meet a person for the first time in your life, exchange a few words, and then suddenly feel that there's nothing left to say. Excuse me, I'm going to play chess with your father."
He looks at Aldona again, as if he'd like to stay with her, perhaps stroke her hair, or just ask her how she's feeling, but before you know it he's in the farmer's room.
"So", Aldona bursts out laughing, "he's really been around, seen lots of people, lots of women."
"But he won't get Maryte. I'll give him a little something to eat, then let him be on his way. There's one thing 1 don't understand, Aldona. Maryte herself used to teach us manners and refinement, but she fell in love with such a blockhead. It would be embarrassing to show him off not only in the city, but even in the country. I'm going to write Maryte a letter right away and tell her to change her mind, because she won't be getting my blessing."
"But you won't have to get angry at Maryte and tell me what to write her. I don't think he loves her."
"So all he cares about is our farm and our money, eh? Well, just you wait. I'll kindly ask him to leave."
"But first I'll give something to eat, anyway. After that, Mother, you can do anything you want with him," and Aldona goes to the kitchen.
In the meantime, the two men are battling furiously. The son-in-law takes the farmer's castle as a handicap, saying that he doesn't play well. Regardless, the farmer wins. Then the young man gives the farmer a handicap and the young man wins.
"What's going on?" wonders the farmer. "1 give you a handicap and I win. Then you give me a handicap and you win."
The son-in-law gives up the queen as a handicap. But soon the farmer gets excited again:
"Wait a minute! What kind of game is this? You put your knight against both my queen and my king. How am I going to play without my queen? Let's replay the move."
"I can't. A move is final. We can't do anything about it."
"If you're going to play like this, taking advantage of my mistakes, of course I'll keep losing. But I still can't understand why you win when you give me a handicap and lose when I give you one."
"I am trying to get on your good side. I like your daughter."
"You won't get her. We play a different way here. Just look at him! You want to checkmate me when almost all the pieces are still left. First, you have to win or lose most of the pieces, wait until only the kings and a few pawns are left. Anyway, if you really like my daughter, you should lose to me every time."
And in no time the young man loses. The old farmer starts bragging:
"I told you, it's hard for you to play against me. I always win. You see, I've been playing since my childhood."
"You took off the queen yourself. The castle I won at the beginning of the game. Don't you remember how I hit you with my knight?"
"May I smoke?"
"Please do", answered Aldona, who had just walked into the room. She stood by the door, sadly leaning her head against the wall. "Everyone, please, into the dining room."
"You go ahead, son. I'll go fix myself up a bit. Imagine 1 beat someone like you. From Kaunas, no less. Not some old goat from the next farmstead. Aldona, show him to the table. I'll be along in a minute."
"Father sure is bragging a lot."
"I let him keep winning on purpose because of you."
Mother, looking pallid, is waiting in the front room, even more dressed up than before. She is clearly unnerved by the presence of a bothersome stranger. Besides, all he is after is the property. A thief plain and simple. He walks in calmly with Aldona, praises the flowers in the windows.
Soon the old man joins them. Obviously having dressed hurriedly, everything he's got on is askew: his collar is loose, his tie dangles, and his pants sag. But the old rascal is in a cheerful mood.
"Well, how about some food? I made a good showing playing chess with our guest, so we can eat. That's the way I am. 1 like to brag. Well, let's all sit down."
The son-in-law sits by the window, next to Aldona, and glances outside.
"What a nice stretch of the stream. You have a boat?"
"I row in the evenings. At that time the water's perfectly calm."
"If I were to stay until the evening, we'd both go, but 1 can't stay here."
He shifts his elbow and accidentally knocks over the flower-pot. It falls with a crash.
"What a move! Real chess, I tell you. I am beginning to feel the twitch again."
"I'm very sorry."
"It's nothing. You could have knocked over a larger one. This one's mine. I planted it last year." Aldona laughs.
"But it's no great loss. You folks are well off. Maybe I knocked it over on purpose. You can get to know someone by the way he acts once you've pushed him a little bit, like with the vase here."
"Every flower costs money and money is everything," Ma butts in.
"For some people. Money means nothing to me. I simply live from river to river, from road to highway. There's enough of me for that, but I really don't have time to think about money."
"How will you support a wife? Contributions?"
"I don't think about marriage much."
"That's it. A real checkmate!" With a sidelong glance at his paled wife, the old man chokes on his words. "Checkmate in three moves, just like the chess problems in the newspapers."
The son-in-law, calm, as if nothing happened, turns again to Aldona,
"Why aren't you eating? How about some fish?"
"I'll get it for her don't bother." The old man gets up and wonders. "Brother, this is some courting. Can't figure it out. Maybe he's after Aldona, not Maryte?"
Mother also gets up from the table and asks her daughter to follow her into the kitchen.
"Look at him! Who is this guy? He eats fish with his hands, knocks over flower pots, sits like a farmhand, flirts with you, doesn't know a thing about manners and hasn't even mentioned Maryte. Maybe he thinks I'll offer him Maryte's hand myself! That'll be the day. Anyway," she raises her voice, "I don't want that man in my house carrying on like some boor. Let him wander from river to river."
The old man, hearing the woman's scolding, jumps up. "Damn, swallowed a hot potato. How about another match?"
"I don't think so. It's time for me to go. I've rested."
He takes a glance outside.
"Those white summer clouds are rising. There is no wind. Look at how polished the surface of the water seems. The sun's gone, and the day is drawing to a close. I hope I won't drop another flower pot; when I start, there's no end to it."
"Why so sad? Won't you speak up and tell us what brought you here?" And the old man placed a hand on his shoulder.
"1 haven't anything else to say. That's it. It's just that your chairs are too hard for me to sit on," laughed the son-in-law standing up. "So, I'll be on my way. I have to reach town before dark. And here's some money for the broken . . ."
But the old woman takes the money.
The daughter blurts out:
And blushing she turns toward the window. She sees that a car is turning from the road into the farm. It stops in the yard and a young gentleman gets out.
"Maryte's fiancι", Aldona said, "the one who just left was not our man."
"Too bad ... I liked him. So friendly. You can talk with him as with an old friend. A good man for you, Aldona, what do you say?"
"Quit talking nonsense! Let's hurry and greet our guest. He drove up in a car. Quite the gentleman. With a fedora," and Mom runs out.
The old man slips out after her scratching his head.
Through the window one can see how the real son-in-law bows before the mother, how he smiles, kisses her hand, lightly embracing her. Almost lifting her off the ground. And she is weeping overcome with emotion.
Aldona doesn't go near them.
She stands by the window, watches the road turning west as the man disappears. A man very much alive, briefly present and now going away fancy free.
Aldona runs through the kitchen and out into the orchard, from there to the fields where the green rye waves. The rye is greening and swaying, restlessly, and it seems to whisper the same troubles, the same sadness which was brought here by the young girl's heart. Such longing envelopes her that she begins to run toward the road, intending to catch up with the receding figure and journey with him.
But the road is already empty. And, in any case, where would she run, and why should she run away from a good life?
On her father's land, the young green rye sways gently.
Editor's Note: Kazys Jankauskas, the author of this short story, was born in 1906. In 1943 he graduated from the University of
Kaunas, where he studied literature and theater. After WW II he worked as teacher, editor and librarian, also translated works from Russian literature. He wrote novels and short stories in impressionistic style. Two of his novels appeared before WW II. This short story was published in 1938.
The translation of this short story is the result of a course in translation which the Editor of this issue taught in the Seminar on Lithuanian Civilization held under the auspices of the Lithuanian Youth Communications Center (Chicago, IL) and Kent State University in August, 1979. The work was done by 12 students. The Editor takes this opportunity to thank these students for their devotion and their diligent work.