LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 30, No.1 - Spring 1984
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1984 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
(a short story)
By VINCAS RAMONAS*
It was high summer. The earth was ripe, the wind a haze, laden and redolent with the golden, intoxicating dust of flowers. Wild poppies and bluebells were blooming. Blue flax also stood in bloom.
On a morning like this, she herself was like a raspberry, full of summer and longing. Her eyes sparkled strikingly, as if she had stood for a long time next to a hot flame. Her blouse was unbuttoned at the top so that the wind could caress her white throat. That's why — to pick red poppies to complement her dark hair — she waded far into the rye.
Her father was angered, "There's no dissuading her! What's come over her? She'll only trample the rye."
With the maple rake over her shoulder she walked past the blooming flax. On her eyebrows formed tiny, fragrant drops of dew. Her eyes were partly closed from a sleepless night. Sleepless because all night the caraway had emitted their scent; sleepless because all the moonlit night the village dogs had barked. Far, far away lightning had flashed, and it had been dreadfully hot in the granary under her downy covers.
Because it was summer, because everything was succulent, because everything blossomed and flamed.
In the meadow by the linden she saw their young hired hand. He was in his shirtsleeves, cutting the grass. His sleeves were rolled up and his chest was tanned where the unbuttoned shirt revealed it. His dark hair was tousled by the wind. Today she really found him handsome, somehow. After the sleepless night. Those strong arms, that chest and that dark hair, strewn across his forehead.
"May the Lord aid you! Well, have you gathered enough hair-grass?"
"Thank you. Enough for us both to bed down with."
The young man slowly leaned on his scythe and examined her from head to toe. Especially long did he mark her blouse.
The young man's glance and words strangely irked her. As if someone had softly caressed that concavity at the base of her throat. She grinned somehow strangely, looked him in the eyes and then, as if in defense, threw a handful of flax blossoms at his face. Right into his hair. Right into those eyes, so hotly and stubbornly staring. Darkly green. Dear.
He blinked his eyes shut. And his first impression, when he opened his eyes again, was that her blouse would just tear open. So thin and tight it was.
She slowly turned, smiling, and walked off. A red wild poppy blossom burned in her dark hair.
In the meadow she filled her wooden sandals with water. Stopping, she poured the water out of them and glanced back.
"Sandals! These were sandals once. Too small, worn out. If you were good, you'd make new ones," she peeved him with her eyes partly closed. "And now — you only lie at noon under the linden and sing the same tune all the time,
always that "We will drive the grey oxen into the green forest." Oh, you and your oxen!"
He was still leaning on the scythe. Its end sank deeper and deeper into the earth.
"Well, cut then! Why are you staring with your mouth open?"
As is awaking, he started slowly to ringingly whet his scythe's blade, without taking his eyes from her. Suddenly he started, threw the scythe on the grass and biting his teeth grasped a finger of his right hand.
"Did you cut yourself?"
He was silent. Carefully he wiped the cut with grass.
She came nearer, looked at his blood, at his eyes, and as if fearful she turned away. Suddenly she tore a strip of her thin blouse from her breast and turned back to him.
"What are you doing?"
"Give," she answered, breathlessly.
She took his hand, suddenly brought it to her lips and sucked away the running blood, looking him in the face with eyes of dreamy reverie. She then quickly, with trembling hands, bandaged the wound, pushed back his hand, and without looking back walked away.
The young man, following her with his eyes, picked up the scythe from the meadow and began mowing with a stubborn concentration. He cut the mounds and the rocks. The red blood kept oozing through the fabric of her blouse unto the maplewood handle of the scythe.
* * *
Around noon near the woodshed he was carving soles for a pair of wooden sandals. From willow. Very light. For some very pretty sandals. He wanted to make the sandals so pretty, so pretty . . .
Seeing her going into the granary, he placed the axe on the wood-chips and asked,
"Will they be all right?"
"What 'all right'?"
"The soles for the sandals. You could try them for size."
She stood for a moment as if uncertain. Then she came close and, without saying a word, put her foot on the new sole. He took her foot and could in no way place it correctly. His hands trembled. The whiteness of her feet, their roundness, and the warmth . . .
"Well, as if you know how to measure! And the soles are too big." She was not pleased.
"So, I can't even make sandals? This is the first time in my life I hear this!" Placing the soles on the stump used to chop wood, he chopped them in half with two blows of his axe, threw everything to the ground and quickly walked away through the yard.
He fell under the linden onto thick grass and looked up somewhere, at the green leaves, at the blue sky. The linden tree rustled so green, so blue, unboundedly so. He felt somehow sad, even angry. To the point where something hurt in his chest.
* * *
The night was unusually close. One's hands sweat, one's feet were hot. In the hay recently brought from the meadows to the hay barn. The sleepy gnats buzzed and kept sleep away.
Outside heavy dew was on the grass. Deep summer peace. The lindentree's flowers were fragrant in the moonlight. Caraway and red apples gave off their fragrance in the orchard near the granary. Near the window of the granary.
Far away the north was pink.
And there was this mysterious temptation. In the closeness of the fragrant summer's night. There was something of a pull — to the granary window. And that path to the granary was just too easily descried this night. Too much of a torture. Like a temptation.
Having gazed for a long time through the crack in the boards, he arose. Too sticky, too close. No sleep to be had anyway. He stepped out into the yard, and the night's coolness caressed his hands swollen from the heat. He walked along the path to the granary; he then stopped, and
thought, and shook the orchard fence: a little, but as if he wanted to tear it down.
Those flax blossoms she had thrown at him had struck him straight in the heart. Straight in his blood.
Having taken off his shoes he carefully approached the granary and knocked on the window.
"Are you asleep?" He could barely talk.
"Anele, are you asleep?"
An apron covered the window. The apron parted, and Anele appeared silently looking out through the glass.
"Open it. I want to tell you . . ."
"You, apparently, have lost your mind."
"Open it, Anele . . ."
"No. I can't. But what, after all, is the matter with you?"
"See, what you're like . . . And why did you throw those blossoms at me? No, I won't forgive you . . ." With a firm blow of his fist he broke the windowglass and tried to grab her hand.
"Anele . . ." He was hardly able to breathe.
But she managed to step away.
Grabbing her apron he tore it from the window and squeezed it in his hands. He gritted his teeth and suddenly ripped the apron in half. Then he threw it back through the broken window, and walked back along the path. He found his shoes, shook the sand out of them, and put them on. Without being really aware of what he was doing he went into the horse stables. He even threw some clover into the feeding troughs. Softly he patted the horse's neck.
"Eat, eat. Ah, well, go ahead, eat, Blackie . . . Ah, just you wait!"
* * *
The next morning they both drove to bring in the dry clover into the hay barn. Having climbed into the wagon she kept looking at him all the time, she kept smiling fleetingly while he drove. He turned unexpectedly and saw that smile. But it was a clear teasing. She was feeling great as a woman and she was teasing him.
He sharply cracked the whip at the horses and energetically pulled at the reins. The horses reared. Such was her smile.
Loading the wagon he speared the clover with his pitchfork and lifted up almost an entire stack. He just about blanketed her in clover. As if he wanted to cover that strange smile of hers. But her smile continued to irk him from under the meadow-flowers and the dry clover petals, which crumbled and fell under her blouse.
Having loaded the wagon he silently climbed up and slowly turned towards home. The horses snorted, nodding their heads, and the wagon swayed easily from side to side. Suddenly it went a bit into a hole and lurched to the left.
"Pull on the Bay. You can see it's a hole".
He cracked the whip over the horses. The horses jumped forward. That was his answer.
The wagon rolled unto a stone and tilted again.
"Pull on the Blackie! How are you driving?"
Again he lifted his hand back as if to crack the whip, but at once lowered and tightly gripped the handle.
After a while:
"Watch out for the ditch! What's with you today? Are you trying on purpose to tip over the wagon, or is it that you just can't drive?"
The young man suddenly stopped the horses, jumped up, and, grabbing her, threw her from the wagon to the ground.
The sun then began to shine even more hotly; the young man began to sweat. And the crickets were chirping so terribly loudly all around.
She sat on the ground. She straightened her skirt around her legs, and then slowly got up. He still could not see her face.
He jumped from the wagon and ran to her.
"Did I hurt you badly?" In his voice was regret and shame and something else.
She was silent. She leaned up against his shoulder and looked somewhere far away. She was pensive and sad.
"No . . ." she said softly, forgivingly.
"Tell me, did I hurt you badly?"
"You're so . . ." She looked him in the eyes and began to smile. Then she again gazed at him for a long time with amazed eyes.
"Are you so very mad at me?"
"Where did you get that scar on your face?"
"Tell me, Anele, did . . .?"
"You probably fight a lot?"
"Yes, that's from a knife . . ."
"You're very cruel . . ." she said quietly, bemusedly, and caressed his shoulder, the rough shirt.
* * *
Sunday morning he washed so assiduously that the rough homemade soap almost ate out his eyes. He so painstakingly brushed his boots that the boot top reflected his face. "This time, even the clothes will have to be brushed," he was thinking. Then he washed his feet in the pond. With soap.
He crossed the yard mouthing a cigarette, his hat at an angle, and sat on the veranda.
"Well, what are you going to bring me from the town?" asked Anele from the flower garden. "You always bring something for others, but never anything for me. And I try so hard to load wagons well for you."
The young man frowned at her. He kept chewing on his cigarette and remained silent. Here again came her smile. Ah, that half-open eye! Well, just wait . . .
"So you don't plan to bring me anything?" She came up to him and adorned his jacket lapel with a red flower, then coldly turned and walked into the drawing room.
He followed her with his eyes but did not even glance at the flower. He now remembered his wallet. He spat out the cigarette, slowly stood up and went inside.
The maid was busying herself around the stove; the farmer was washing up, splashing water. He had hung his jacket near the door.
The maid glanced at the young man and grinned. He frowned and looked at her, looked at the flower in his lapel, and quickly hid it in his pocket. Then he went along the wall, glanced at the farmer, looked at his jacket, stopped for a moment near where the jacket was hanging and quickly moved away.
Breakfast for some reason he couldn't eat at all. He took a few bites, put the spoon down and left.
He walked through the yard with unusual haste and somehow strangely hanging his head. Keeping his hand in his pocket. With the red rose.
* * *
Having returned home, he glanced at the drawing room window: nothing to be seen. Just flowers on the table. He went out into the orchard — empty. He was upset. Irritated. Suddenly on a bench under an apple tree he noticed a scarf. A vague happiness, but also an irritation, so that his heart had started to beat so violently. He stopped. He did not know, now, where to go further.
"Home already?" He became entirely confused upon hearing that voice and turned around. She was hiding from the sun in a lilac bush.
"So I came home . . ."
"You'll be hungry. We'll go, I'll get you something".
"Are you in a hurry to go somewhere?"
"Well, there is this dance. They invited . . ."
"She doesn't even mention this morning's conversa-tion/' he thought to himself.
"What's new in town?"
"Nothing. A lot of people. The shops are full."
"What did you buy, if the shops are full of people?"
"Nothing. Well ..." A pause. "Please forgive me that I hurt you so . . ." He pulled a red necklace from his pocket.
"For which girl?"
"For you. You asked for a present, so I brought this back for you."
He held the necklace out to her.
She looked at him inquiringly; held out her hand, but did not even glance at the necklace. She held it with her lowered hand and was silent. Only after a long while did she remember and thank him. Again both were silent.
"Go and eat," she finally uttered sadly and went ahead of him. For some reason, she was deeply moved.
"Anele, are you angry?"
He caught up her hand and firmly pressed it. He looked at her deep eyes. Sad now, full of sympathy as well as of misty joy.
"What is it? Anele, tell me . . ."
At this time Anele's young neighbor, Andrius, her intended, entered the yard and stopped in amazement.
"Leave me in peace!" she suddenly retorted bitterly and went to the guest.
Andrius still remained silent and, frowning, glanced at Jonas and at the necklace in her hand. Anele was momentarily at a loss, then smiled somewhat disdainfully and suddenly burst out laughing.
"Imagine: this young man won't leave me alone," she justified herself. "He thinks he can court me, as if I were a hired maid. That's just too much. Take a look at what he brought me today." Still laughing loudly, she showed him the red necklace.
Andrius was still standing wrathful and silent.
Jonas disappeared. He was beaten, ground into the dirt.
Suddenly he quickly strode from the granary across the yard. Passing them he halted and was completely pale. With a voice full of hate he screamed in Andrius' face:
"That's right, that's a present for last night, spent together in the granary."
He walked quickly off through the gate onto the road.
"Let's go, let's go . . ." she clutched Andrius' hand. "Let's go into the drawing room, I'll explain . . ."
She was trembling.
Leaving her guest in the drawing room, she ran into another room to "freshen up." She threw the necklace on the table and turned all red from anger. With this pin from her hair she would stab out his eyes. She would bite his hand to the blood.
She tore apart the necklace and let the beads fall to the floor.
But after having said good-bye to Andrius, she picked them up and strung them together, smiling sadly and almost in tears.
* * *
During lunch into the servants' room entered the farmer. He stood at the table and looked for a long time at the young farm hand.
"Well, Jonas, how much do I still owe you?"
Jonas slowly put down his spoon, looked somewhere to the side and stood up.
"You know how much," he answered, taking his cap from the hook.
"So, take this. It's minus the amount you took yourself."
Without saying a word Jonas put the money in his pocket and went to pack his things.
As he was crossing the yard, his hat pulled over his eyes, Anele stopped him near the gate.
"Jonas . . ."
He stopped, glanced briefly at her and, looking at the ground, asked,
"You won't leave . . ."
Her father was standing on the veranda and stared at them balefully. He bit his lips but did not dare to say anything because the hired people were in the house and the windows were open. But Anele suddenly ran to her father, grasped his arm and spoke quickly, breathlessly.
"He can't leave, father!"
"He can't leave?" her father said in amazement. He could barely control his anger.
"No, I won't marry Andrius. I can't . . ."
Her father looked at her and his eyelashes trembled.
"I can't . . . Because . . . because Jonas was with me in the granary . . ."
As if burned with hot iron, her father grabbed her by the arm and dragged her from the veranda into the drawing room, locking the door.
Jonas ran up to the door. Inside he heard heavy blows and soft moans. He beat upon the door to no avail. His knuckles were bruised and bloody, and he was soaked with sweat.
After a while the door opened. Her father came out and stopped in the doorway. Clenching his teeth he glared at the young man. He wanted to say something, his lips trembled, but he regained control of himself.
"Ah, the devil with you, but you can stay," he finally uttered, breathless. He strode quickly past Jonas, stopped, gave him a heavy blow across the face, and went into the yard.
Jonas stood motionless for a long moment and then cautiously stepped into the drawing room. Anele was standing at the mirror fixing her disheveled hair. Her left hand was blue and on the floor lay a cane of reed.
"What's happening, Anele?"
"I don't know myself."
"I told him I would not marry Andrius. But you know that," she said coming towards him.
"You won't marry him?"
"How can I marry him? I don't want him. And you yourself said that you've been in the granary . . ." She looked him right in the eyes. Her white teeth were clenched, her lips open. Her eyes kept getting smaller and were strangely shining.
"But that was a lie Anele"
"Oh, yes, I also tricked father. Don't you understand?" Suddenly she put her arms around him and kissed him for a long time.
"Well, this was that kiss you wanted so badly," she said barely able to speak. And her lips were dry and hot.
* * *
Thus, after about two weeks, they were married.
Translated by Audrius Tadas Klimas
* Vincas Ramonas, b. 1905. This short story (Orig. Linø þiedai) was
first published in 1934, in the selection of his short stories, Dailininkas Rauba. (Ed.)