Stefan Zeromski (1864-1925)
Zeromski is an intensely dynamic writer. Not so popular as his older contemporary Prus, he excels in the psychological analysis of his characters. In the story that follows, we feel the influence of the late Nineteenth Century Russian novelists. Zeromski began by writing stories of modem life, then produced a series of historical novels, and finally returned to his first manner. His short stories are sombre studies of character.
The present version, translated by Else C. M. Benecke, is reprinted from Polish Tales, Oxford University Press, by permission of the publisher.
Forebodings Two Sketches
I had spent an hour at the railway station, waiting for the train to come in. I had stared indifferently at several ladies in turn who were yawning in the comers of the waiting-room. Then I had tried the effect of making eyes at a fair young girl with a small white nose, rosy cheeks, and eyes like forget-me-nots; she had stuck out her tongue (red as a field-poppy) at me, and I was now at a loss to know what to do next to kill time.
Fortunately for me two young students entered the waiting-room. They looked dirty from head to foot, mud-bespattered, untidy, and exhausted with traveling. One of them, a fair boy with a charming profile, seemed absent-minded or depressed. He sat down in a comer, took off his cap, and hid his face in his hands. His companion bought his ticket for him, sat down beside him, and grasped his hand from time to time.
“Why should you despair? All may yet be well. Listen, Anton.” “No, it’s no good, he is dying, I know it … I know . . . perhaps he is dead already.”
“Don’t believe it! Has your father ever had this kind of attack before ?” “He has; he has suffered from his’heart for three years. He used to drink at times. Think of it, there are eight of us, some are young children, and my mother is delicate. In another six months his pension would have been due. Terribly hard luck!”
“You are meeting trouble half-way, Anton.”
The bell sounded, and the waiting-room became a scene of confusion. People seized their luggage and trampled on each other’s toes; the porter who stood at the entrance-door was stormed with questions. There was bustle and noise everywhere. I entered the third-class carriage in which the fair-haired student was sitting. His friend had put him into it, settling him in the comer-seat beside the window, as if he were an invalid, and urging him to take comfort. It did not come easy to him, the words seemed to stick in his throat. The fair-haired boy’s face twitched convulsively, and his eyelids closed over his moist eyes.