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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter XIX: Wolf's Hunting




A sparkling narrative of winter in Narocz; of the ghostly snows. The author relates a primal struggle between the wolves that draw close to the settlement in the snow and their attack on the dogs. An allegory of the Russo-German and Russo-Polish conflicts of the recent past.

This is the last surviving chapter - two were lost in Mrs Lisiewicz's struggles at Lwow, and eventual incarceration by the Russians. She carried the manuscript through the war years in a remarkable devotion to her husband's work - the only conection she was to have with him during her incarceration.

Further reading

None - rhetorical chapter

Chapter XIX: The Text

THE war among men ended, and there came a period of peace. What sort of peace let us not discuss, but peace. But on the shores of the Narocz another war still rages. Its beginning is lost in the mists of the ages, and its end will come only with the end of the world: the antagonists on the battlefield are dogs and wolves.

Dogs and wolves are confirmed enemies, and though it sometimes happens that a wolf will lure a dog-bitch into- the woods and admit her to the herd-yet his own children he will then persecute with even greater, even more merciless fury. In this hate is something great, something like the habits of men, more of the epic than of natural history, for such a hate has no healthy causes, no aim, such as the naturalists everywhere and in everything so willingly search out, but exists for its own sake, as a form of feeling, a form of action, hate for hate's sake. Is it not that, in this never satisfied, on both sides equally ardent, desire for destruction, there is something of the basis of all class wars-envy? Something of the revolt against injustice? Something of the feeling of injury at the division of good things?

Wolves despise dogs, slaves of man, but at the same time envy them their quiet life and abundance of food. Dogs look on wolves as we regard the cannibals of the Solomon Isles, but in silence too envy them their pride of race, freedom, liberty, rights of the pack, and right of battle.

So they destroy each other where and when they can. The war endures.

On the day before New Year's Eve, Sutocki came back from Postawy in a very bad temper. It appeared that the reason for this was not only his bad luck in the tax office.

"Damn! Damn! Damn!" h'e swore in his long drawn Lithuanian accent, as he threw off his sheepskin coat. "Damn! I hadn't my gun. And I always carry it! Sir!" he turned to me. "Just imagine: it stood in front of me! Big as a calf. As a calf, I tell you."

"Who, what, how?" I asked curiously.

"What do you think? A wolt! And I hadn't a gun. nor a revolver, nor anything, not even a cartridge! Just my luck."

"Have you seen a wolf?"

"Sir, just as well as I see you. We're going through the wood, and there's a dog standing on the road. From the village, I think to myself, it's got lost. It stands and waits, never moving. When there's a moon you can see for miles. We go nearer, I look again-and it's a wolf! It spread itself out on the road and only its eyes gleamed like lanterns, confound it! It well knew we'd no arms with us. We try to pass it-and it blocks our road, and doesn't want to move. So I got annoyed! I took my whip and wanted to give it a cut-then it jumped aside, but still ran after the horses for about half a mile."

"I suppose the horses were scared."

"Why, sir! They're used to it. Next time I'll-" He did not finish, only sighed and, calling to Mikolay to bring him something to eat, went to his room.

The next day we went with the students, skijoring, to church, so as to greet the New Year in a suitable fashion. Evening fell fast. The sun set in the south (this is a northern country) behind the woods. The students went out again to a dance in Miadziol, and we, sitting in the small dining room, were playing cards. Thus we waited for mid-night-the New Year. Outside there were at least 30 degrees of frost. On the windows shone frosty palms, flowers, fantastic patterns, Japanese gardens, everything polished with the silver sheen of hoar-frost and the moonlight peeping from behind the trees.

Just outside the windows the winter night spread its pale wings. The fantastically dressed forest lay in numb whiteness. The lake, filled to the brim with moonlight, lay in a melting cloud of greenish gleams, the glassy forms of the trees along the shore twinkled wanly. And over the trees and the lake the heavens opened dark gulfs, set with sparkling stars. Farther off, in the depths of the tangled forest, deep snow bent tall pines to the very ground. The crowded yet dead forest formed in these bending arcs great churches and arched chapels. The arches of the aisles faded above into misty shadows. Some of the trees, as if impatiently, threw off the weight of icicles and snowy shrouds. They would straighten themselves with a violent stretch, and then trom the earth rose a billowing cloud and the frost whirled in silver gleams and poisonous green. All this went on in absolute silence.

There was no wind. Everywhere, even into the farthest thickets, penetrated the streams of moonlight-pale gleams. It was at once sparkling and frozen, one would say-ringing. It was like a phosphorescence spread over the dark, the wandering lights of an undersea cave. This light fell into one's eyes with a painful smarting, and bit one's throat, paralysing scent as well as sight.

Beyond the silence of the numb forest, beyond the sky black as a raven's wing, beyond the stars shining on the frost, something else lay hidden. One could feel it clearly, though it had no name in the human tongue, nor had any living soul ever seen it. It always slipped from under the drifts, or from behind a bush powdered with snow, and stood beside the straying traveller. Only when eyes could look no more, when frost froze the blood in the veins and the heart ceased to beat, the bony fingers of icy hands closed the eyelids on the glassy pupils of the dying eye. To-day it certainly was hidden-behind the curve of some snow-encrusted pine. It hissed in the quiet murmur of the falling icy particles, it poured glassy snow into the trails of animals. Surrounded by a light so monotonous that all obvious contours escaped the eye, it waited on its hour and booty.

For us, in the newly-whitewashed room, it was fine and warm. The table was spread with a clean, stiffly-starched cloth, in the stove burnt fragrant, tarry logs, the samovar purred happily beside the lamp that burned with a great yellow flame. The thrown cards rustled. On the clock face the hands approached midnight.

"Shall we turn on the wireless now?" I suggested, laving aside the cards.

"All right."

Sutocki began to collect the cards and tidy up the counters, when we heard the voice of Nerus barking furiously. Our dachshund answered him immediately. She left her warm place by the stove and ran to the door, listening and sniffing.

"Maybe the students are back," remarked Sutocki.

"Maybe they are," I slowly answered, heartily wishing that it was so. Suddenly I felt as if someone had turned down the lamp and thrown a dark shade over the flame. The room, a moment before so cheerful and welcoming, had become empty and gloomy. A chill ran through it. I shook myself.

Silence. Outside nothing stirred. -The windows were blind, only the greenish moonlight shone, dancing on the icy needles of frost. Nerus's bark seemed to move farther off, at last fell silent. My glance fell on the dachshund: the dog was obviously uneasy. She did not bark, but was all ruffled, changed into a very hedgehog, and tucking her tail between her legs, began to retreat towards us, not taking her gaze from the door.

A long moment passed. I don't know how -long. I only remember my wife's pale face and the features of Sutocki, contracted, as if stiffened in attention. They were both watching the door too. I felt a thousand little shivers run down my spine. I held my breath and watched-the door handle. I was waiting to see it slowly turn, the door open of its own accord and, from beyond the door, come blowing emptiness and frost. At the sound of the last hour, into the room would come something which only such a night, a night engulfed in the dead emptiness of the woods, could bring to birth.

We were still sitting motionless, watching the door, when from afar behind the house came a low throatv howl.. It was like the empty laugh of the night hawk, only deeper, longer and fuller. Everything that hunger, despair, exile from all happiness, and that grey half-light, that merciless twinkling of stars could say, was in that note.

"That's a wolf!" remarked Sutocki shortly.

The evil spell was broken. We sprang up, each running to his room for a gun. Loading each barrel with buck-shot as I ran, I dashed out into the yard. The edge of the wood showed faintly by the light of the high-riding half moon. Distance was lost. as were all outlines, all idea of form lost its value. The distant lake full of greenish light swallowed the world of sleepy trees.

We found no wolf, nor even his tracks, but constantly from far away, from beyond the wood, came the nervous barking of the dogs. When we returned home we went to bed, not even waiting for the programme from Wilno.

Meanwhile among the bushes on the steep slope of the First Headland, slipped three shadows. They were wolves. The period of snowy hunger had made them form a pack earlier than usual. Walking in one another's footsteps, they stole cautiously to the edge of the lake, to where among the drifts shone a dark patch on the monotonous white of the ice. It was a hole where water was obtainable. They went quickly down and fell thirstily on the pools of water. When they lapped it, from their muzzles, each time they raised their heads there ran streams of water shining in the moonlight. Having quenched their thirst they went back up the hill, where, with heads turned to the west, standing motionless, they looked long and fixedly at the great light space of the horizon.

Then a tall, thin she-wolf moved on to the very edge of the cliff, stretched her head out to the sky, raised her hackles and began to howl.

Probably the beginning of all worship on earth began with such prayers of the wolves and jackals. Once, when the elements of life were forming, some beam too silver, too green, too shining, one of those which raised the sea's waves in the first high tide, bored into the animal's soul and tore from the throat hungry for blood, the first painful pangs of longing. What did the slanting wolfish eyes see then on the cold face of the moon? What penetrated in promise or summons through the matted side to the sharp-toothed head? Was it only the faint ray which instead of a gnashing of teeth called forth that mad song? No one knows and no one will ever know. Let it remain a secret between the wolves and the moon.

The she-wolf howledand a shiver ran through the forest. Echoes carried the sound far away. Again answered the distant chorus of dogs from the summer house and those from beyond the wood-from Hatowicze.

The she-wolf heard their barking, her hackles rose even more, but she ceased howling. After a moment she ran down from the headland, leading both dog-wolfs. All three went on to the ice of the lake and began to trot. They avoided in a great circle the hostel showing black on the edge of the clearing, returned to the shore, and at last, pressing through the dense .pines on the hill, dropped into the bushes by the snowed-up, deserted huts of the summer colony. The dogs were still barking unceasingly. Their voices were full of excitement, but so monotonous like the white snowy night.

Now it's not far! The she-wolf tore ahead. In a few arrowy bounds she tore through the drift beside the road and came out on a narrow trodden path leading to the summer house, near which the dogs, shut in a shed, were still making a great noise.

The wolves, who till now had travelled in single file, separated as if at a word of command. Both dog-wolves crept into the shadow of the fir-trees growing close to the house, while the she-wolf went on right up to the foundations of the porch. The red light from the windows irritated her sight, so, laying her ears back, she biinked once or twice. Round the wall of the house she turned into the yard, and, running across it, came to the shed and began to sniff diligently. The Spitz and Alsatian meanwhile threw themselves at the closed doors, scratching at the boards and barking furiously. But one thing was strange-the nearer the she-wolf came, the more quietly the dogs barked. When she walked twice round the shed-they fell silent: all one could hear was their plaintive whining at the door.

Now the she-wolf began to approach and recede from the shed, bounding strangely as if in the whirls of a magic dance. Indeed: she was weaving spells. She wove a spell of scents, waved the magic wand of charmed hide, breath, and sweat. She filled the threatening air with an alluring incense of sex. Creeping, whirling, leaping to and fro, she impressed in the snow the charms of an animal's tread, the sorcery of trail and spoor. From her sides, tail, back, and breath she spread the vapours of her own warmth. Till at last, warm and panting, she froze into a waiting posture, boring through the planks which formed an artificial barrier dividing attraction from desire. The dogs, calmed, charmed, with nostrils full of promises, with the instinct of fear lulled, lay by a small crack under the door, obedient to the law which the scent recalled.

But the spell was brutally broken, for the doors of the house suddenly opened, and from within poured warm gusts of vapour, in the air rose another scent: the scent of smoke and of man. The red reflection of the fire fell on the snow. From behind the mist rose the figure of a man with gun in hand. He stood for a moment on the porch, listened, then, as if satisfied by the quietness, vanished into the. lighted vapour. The door shut. The vapour vanished. The air cleared in the frost. There fell again the silence of the woods and the greenish night.

At the first click of the latch the she-wolf had jumped aside and crouched down by a tree trunk. She combined with it in the darkness. Now she crawled out into the yard again. Watching her as she went, carelessly, aimlessly, as if crouching with fear with lowered tail, one would have thought her an ordinary village mongrel stealing round the house. However, the lanterns of her eyes, shining with cold enthusiasm under the bushy locks of her skull, would soon have dispelled the mistake.

She went back to the shed, and again spent a long time sniffing at the door from beneath which came the quick breathing and scraping of paws scratching in turn at the beaten earth of the floor, the. walls and the cracks in them, stuffed up with moss. For a moment she herself tried to dig under the threshold, but when soon she came to ice and frozen earth she gnashed her teeth in fury on the obstinate clods. At last, losing patience, with all the impetus of her wolfish temper she threw her whole body twice against the walls of the shed. A dull crash was heard and snow fell from the roof. Seeing that her efforts were in vain she began to run to and fro, sniffing, biting at the planks and scraping at the walls in an unquenchable desire to find the way in.

Creeping like a rat under the walls she circled the building. If at that moment the dogs had seen the unbridled fury and passion in her every movement, perhaps they would not have tried to leave their safe hiding-place, but the instinct of self protection was lulled by the scent of the she-wolf. The fraud of love, the most primitive and most difficult to resist of all deceptions, shook their dogs' hearts, dispersed their alert wits, enflamed their bodily strength and condemned them to destruction. The dogs were living only for the joy of the chase and victory.

The she-wolf tried to jump on to the roof. In vain, how-ever, she ran ever wider circles to gain impetus. In vain her airy bounds flashed through the atmosphere full of frosty chill and the pale gleam of moonlight. The snowy roof shone on high like a polished plate, showering snow and ice on the animal's head, but remaining out of reach.

Then she returned to the door, for her unerring instinct told her that this was the way in. Anyway the dogs had long been waiting by the door. Here she best felt their near-ness. She stood up on her hind legs leaning with all her weight on the unplaned planks. In so doing she accidently touched the bolt, caught it against her paw and drew it aside. The door suddenly flew open.

The she-wolf fell aside, scattering the snow with her rump. With head stretched out, legs bent for a spring, hackles raised, she stood still, only opening and closing her toothed jaws.

From behind the door the Spitz and Alsatian rushed out into the yard. Now their usual roles were changed: Rex, more cautious, more in control of himself, his wild blood stronger, stayed behind. Rik, excited to fever-heat, at once threw himself vigorously forward, only to meet an immediate check in the grating teeth of the wolf. He jumped aside, only to come bounding back, circling the she-wolf, who with head turned always in his direction, as it fulfilling the dictates of the amorous dance, in which desire must overcome an equally strong resistance, slowly retreated towards the fir trees.

While the Spitz attacked from in front, Rex, moving on his belly over the earth, as did his ancestors, tried to cut off the she-wolf's retreat. Beneath the narrow, flat skulls of the dogs was one main desire. The Spitz and Alsatian, friends before, now growled at each other when their paths crossed. Rex stiffened, measuring the Spitz with fire in his eyes, but the impatient Rik was not anxious to begin the battle for a right which lie had not yet won. Avoiding Rex, afraid that the she-wolf might escape meanwhile, he threw himself on her in a great arc. It was not a stroke of battle, but rather the seal of courtship. He wanted to throw her to the ground, tug her dark coat and show her, the weaker, his manly strength. Oh, fool! He was still sailing through the air, like a downy lump of snow, when his piercing whine rang out. As if from beneath the earth there appeared new shadows shaped like beasts of prey and moved after the Spitz. There sounded the crack of broken bones, the wild growling of the wolves and..the inhuman cries of the tortured dog. The equally alarming barks of the fighting Rex completely destroyed the silence of the night. Attacked, he detended himself well, and, luckily having his back to the wall of the house, tore with his teeth whatever he could. With mouth full of blood, heated by the struggle, he whirled on his hind legs and growled not less than the wolves. He was no longer afraid of death, only scorched with the desire to murder, fight, and worry, and the longing for a good grip with all his teeth. The bodies were entangled. Soon the clouds of steam and dust raised by the struggle surrounded those fighting in an opaque mist, in which the moon threw sparks, and among the icy dust rose pale rainbows.

Suddenly the wolves left the sheep-dog, dashed into the shadows and vanished.

When the forester, roused at last by the noise, ran out of the house, the wolves had gone; only by the wall of the house lay Rex with an ear torn off. There was no trace of the Spitz. Only a few strips of skin and a pool of blood on the snow bore witness that once on earth lived Rik, servant, page, and unfaithful friend of Rex, the Alsatian.

The forest was silent. Sunk in the beams of moonlight, in a wall of white impenetrable trunks, branches, bushes tangled in the snow and mist, thorned with icicles and hoarfrost, it seemed to weigh, on its-snowy coverings, the best scales, love and hate. The stars shone brighter in the distant dark sky. They felt the death, and threw down beams so sharp that one could feel their painful pricking.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here ends the manuscript brought from Russia. Two chapters are missing. . . .