LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2011 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 57, No.2 - Summer 2011
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
The Deposition of Jadwiga Dobilas to the Military Delegation, 16 August 1834
WENDELL MAYO is author of three books of fiction. He has served with the American Professional Partnership for Lithuanian Education (APPLE) and taught at Vilnius University. He is Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at Bowling Green State University, where he directs the MFA and BFA programs.
The following was inspired by Saulius Sužiedėlis’s translation of a document from the Diocesan Archive of Łomża, Poland.
Sirs, I knew Jósef Dobilas before I married Adam Adamczyk. I knew him long before my children with Adam were born and long before Adam died. I knew Jósef when we were children in Gordzie, schoolmates. Years passed before I saw Jósef again just before Pentecost of this year. I went into the forest to pick mushrooms. It was about dusk. In the distance, someone was burning brush, and blue smoke was drifting through the pines. It was quiet and hazy, but I was able to see Jósef leaning against a pine tree, holding a foot up with one hand and tightening the leggings of his birch sandal with the other. I was in a hurry – night was coming on – so I turned to go. I startled Jósef. He gasped, dropped his foot to the ground, and jumped behind the tree. I saw a bit of his face – one eye – peer at me next to the bark. He recognized me.
“Jadwiga,” he called.
“Where are you going?” I came a bit closer to him and saw he wore only a light vest for such a chilly evening. He started to shiver.
“I’m sorry I frightened you,” I said. “I thought you were in the Polish Army.”
He revealed a little more of himself, a hand, elbow, one ragged lapel of his shirt.
“I was,” he replied and removed a small flask of midus from the pocket of his vest. “After the fall of Warsaw, I returned to my family in Gordzie, but my sister, fearing harassment from the Polish Military Delegation, kept my holding in the farm and sent me away.”
The sun went down, and it was getting dark. I could scarcely make out his features. I told Jósef I had to go – but he went on with his story. He was only a dark shape, speaking, one leg up, one hand again adjusting his sandal so it made a rasping sound in the forest.
“You understand, right? I’d already fought in the insurrection against the Czar. And then to be drafted by the new Polish government installed by the Russians?” Finally, he let his leg drop. “Anyway, I went to the Russian Empire and wandered there for two years.”
Jósef started to advance on me from the tree, but I took two small steps back and said, “What did you do in Russia?”
He stuck an elbow on the tree and leaned there, then went on.
“I wanted to do many things,” he said and scratched his head, “but there were thieves and people of low moral character there. It is difficult. You know how things are. Besides– the Russians wanted to draft me.”
By now, almost all of his features were obscured by the lack of light. I could see only the ghost image of Jósef, something that reminded me of what a mother in our village once said to her son who was about to be drafted by the Russians:
“Yes, Russians!” he went on. “But I escaped and returned and have been living in these woods by any means possible, trying to avoid the Polish Military Delegation... Russians. Poles. Now it’s all the same thing. War everywhere.”
Sirs, I felt sorry for Jósef and told him to begin distilling pine tar in the woods for income. In the meantime, I explained, I would secretly provide him with food. I know it was wrong, but what woman would not show pity for a man hunted by two empires? I believe he suffered greatly from many travails. Anyway, sirs, in a way, I did regret telling Jósef that I would help him survive in the forest. I was not sure how I could provide for him and my two children from my marriage with Adam Adamczyk, who then lived with my old mother.
The next day, I went into the village to sell the mushrooms I’d gathered. While on the road entering the village, I paused a moment to let the wagons pass. I suppose I just stopped the way people sometimes stop to rest a little. As one wagon passed, the pink snout of a pig poked out of the bed, barely breathing, destined for the knife. Above the sideboards, its round wild eye rolled about in bewilderment and terror. When another wagon passed, out popped the drooping heads of ducks, geese, and chickens, also heading for the knife. But it wasn’t the two wagons passing that changed my regret about helping Jósef. It was the third wagon, overloaded, a girl sitting atop a swaying mountain of grain fresh from the fields. She wore a white kerchief on top of her head. She seemed so content, so happy, and she was smiling at me – me! Sirs, perhaps you know moments like this. One moment everything seems so hopeless, the next everything seems all right: You begin to believe that every scrap of food may be stretched impossibly far.
After this, I went to Jósef’s farm to visit his sister, who provided a little rye bread (stretched with potatoes) and some gira. His sister didn’t ask about Jósef’s condition. She didn’t say anything. She simply gathered the provisions and handed them to me. The rest of Jósef’s food I got from begging.
Most days, I got food to Jósef just before dawn. I took it upon myself to be the first to rise in the household of my master, Rifleman Mnich. I slept on top of the stove, so it was simple for me to get up, remove my bedding, and light the wood splinter. I took the bucket and then went out for water, but extended my stay near the stream at the location where Jósef and I agreed to meet. I delivered Jósef’s food. By the time I returned to the Mnich homestead with the water, a cold light was seeping through cracks in the door and windows. Rifleman Mnich’s niece was starting the bacon. I handed her the water for the potatoes.
“Sun’s already up,” she chided me. I had to hurry in the days that followed to keep Jósef safe.
Next time I visited Jósef in the forest, he was again leaning on a tree, this time a birch, chewing on a twig, his new woolen coat and leather leggings I’d gotten from his sister wrapped about him.
“Have you any tar for me to take into town?” I asked him. He stared at me a long time then tossed the chewed twig aside. He kept looking at and beyond me, the whites of his eyes big and wet. I couldn’t get the image of the pig’s eyes going to slaughter out of my mind.
“What food have you brought?” he said.
I removed a hard sausage and some black bread from my pockets. He snatched them away, sat, and began to eat. “Marry me,” he said, while chewing.
“Marry a deserter?” I replied, astonished. I kept looking at the sausage in his hand. Half of it I’d wanted to deliver to my mother and children.
“Your orphans need a father,” he smiled.
“They don’t need to be orphaned twice!”
“Don’t worry,” he went on, “you can get my share of the farm from my sister and use it to persuade Headman Krol to approach the Military Delegation with a waiver for me from the draft.”
“Will it work?”
“No problem. Besides, your orphaned children...”
I’d thought about choosing a husband from among those few who were not conscripted, perhaps even one who may have mutilated himself, chopped off fingers or a hand to avoid military service. I supposed I would not find another physically able husband soon.
I went immediately to Borkowski, a servant at the Mnich homestead, and asked him to go with my future husband to find a pastor in Sapieżyszki. For the pastor’s services, I gave Jósef and Borkowski three złoty I had gotten from Jósef’s sister.
Later that evening, both men returned and, as agreed, we all met by the stream. Both men were very drunk. Their clothes were soaked from falling into the stream.
“The pastor,” Jósef said, his back on the ground, eyes closed, face up. ”He would not see us. Such times we live in. Such people! We were so disappointed. We went to a tavern...”
“And the three złoty I gave you?”
Jósef then began to curse his sister – called her by a terrible name – followed by something about her being the only woman he’d ever known to inherit a man’s fortune. Then he rolled over on his face and slept. I sent Borkowski away. Then I removed my future husband’s clothes, made a fire, and dried them – being sure to cover him with my cloak while I waited for them to dry.
After that, I went to Sapieżyszki myself and found Father Mackiewicz, the curate there, who said he hadn’t known anything about two men coming earlier to see him, only that there had been some loud drunken disturbance outside the church caused by two men. But he couldn’t imagine it was related. When I told Father Mackiewicz about my orphaned children and Jósef living in the forest and our plans to wed, he graciously agreed to conduct the ceremony free of charge. Father Mackiewicz accompanied me into the forest. When we came upon Jósef, he was lying on one side of his face in the tall grass near the pine tree where I’d first met him. A bit of drool had formed at one corner of his mouth and ran down into the grass. Father knelt beside him and rousted him. Poor Jósef shivered like a newborn lamb when he saw Father.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Jósef said, seeming to recognize Father, and leapt to his feet.
“It’s alright, Jósef,” Father whispered. Jadwiga has explained everything.
“Everything?” Jósef gasped.
“Yes – you want to be married, don’t you?”
“Uh, er, yes,” Joseph mumbled, sighing with relief like wind through trees.
I gave the names of Agata and Tadenz Jajko as witnesses, although they were not present. It was then that Father Mackiewicz wedded me to Jósef Dobilas.
That evening, I went secretly with Jósef to the granary of Rifleman Mnich, where we spent the night together and completed our marriage contract.
Not long after we were married, but before Jósef had distilled any tar in the woods at all, he was arrested while stealing food from Rifleman Mnich’s household. Borkowski found me in the pasture bringing a midday snack to some of the workers. By the time I got to the main house, where they were detaining my husband, two soldiers were escorting him along the road into the forest.
I knew the soldiers would be taking him to Mariampol for his trial – and prison – or worse. Against my better judgment I went to see Rifleman Mnich, for I could have been discharged from service in his household for secretly marrying Jósef Dobilas. But when I told him, he was kind and did not discharge me. He was standing by the hearth, lighting his pipe. I heard him sucking hard on the pipe and watched the smoke float toward the ceiling in tiny clouds that flattened and vanished.
“Can my husband be executed?” I asked my master in a panic.
“He has evaded the draft – and committed other crimes,” he said. Then he paused, removed his pipe from his mouth, and rested it in his hand at his hip. “It is likely he will only serve a short term in prison, then his military service.” Then his voice changed from reassuring to stern. “But if your husband escapes from the authorities again and is recaptured, he will certainly be put to death.”
I thanked Rifleman Mnich and quickly departed to follow the two soldiers and my husband on the road to Mariampol. I followed the three men all the way to Gryszkabuda, where they entered a tavern. When I entered the tavern myself, I noticed my husband sitting in the corner with the two soldiers. In a moment they were all three looking at me, then they put their eyes down to their drinks – vodkas all – and began talking and laughing.
I approached them and said to Jósef, “I see you have at least twenty thaler there. Where did you get that kind of money?”
“From my dear sister – my share of the farm.” He grunted, and one of the soldiers laughed. “And from other sources – with the help of aitvaras!”
“You already have your share?” I asked. But my husband did not answer, so I went on. “I am happy for your good fortune, husband,” I said. “May I have a few złoty to support my children?”
His eyes rolled sideways in his head. One of the soldiers nudged him in a knowing way. Then with a disdainful face, my husband slid three złoty across the table in my direction.
“You’re happy,” he said, “at my misfortune. And now you want my last grosz.”
“Of course not!” I said, so loudly that the soldier on my husband’s right took a bit of vodka up his nose and sneezed.
“Husband, if you’ll give me a little more, I can use the money to approach Headman Krol and the Military Delegation about your waiver from the draft.”
That was when my husband ordered me to buy vodka for him and the two soldiers with the entire three złoty he’d just given me for the children.
“No!” I said, but the soldiers’ stares were so cold and menacing, I thought the soldiers might somehow harm Jósef. I ordered their drinks and paid and stood there, watching.
They were all well into their cups when a young woman came up to my husband and in my presence spoke to him:
“Jósef!” she said, laughing, almost howling. “Don’t you know me? I am your cousin.”
“You might be my cousin,” my husband laughed, “but our family is large around here.” He patted the seat next to him. “Sit down,” he said. “We’ll have some fun.”
Sirs, when I left the tavern in Gryszkabuda for home I felt sure that neither my orphaned children nor I would ever see Jósef Dobilas again. Walking among the pines, where it is so quiet, as though one is in a church, one can let one’s heart walk out and not worry whether it will return; after a while one doesn’t care; there’s too much war; one can only hope the wandering heart will not die too far from home.
Well, sirs, I don’t know who that young woman was in the tavern or why she should know my husband, and I don’t see that you’ve asked, so I’ll go on to say that it was there, in these pinewoods, my heart walking away as I described, that I made up my mind to continue to support my children from the household of Rifleman Mnich – and from begging – until word came about my husband’s fate – a prison term, no doubt, military service, no doubt. But I would wait. What else could I do? All this I accepted. A peace came over me that I cannot explain.
Several days passed, and then one day, while I was drawing water from the stream near the Mnich homestead, just after dusk, there he was – my husband, Jósef Dobilas – crouching on a rock nearby, like a toad, his knees up, and smiling through his beard.
“How did you get free of the soldiers?” I asked him.
He did not answer and instead hopped down from his rock. “Who was that woman in the tavern?” He remained silent, knelt, and began tugging at the laces of his new boots. “And where did you get those boots?”
“Bring me some food,” he commanded.
Well, sirs, this was the very moment the Military Delegation – that is, you – arrived at the homestead of Rifleman Mnich. Jósef and I heard your horses and so moved into the tall thistles near the stream and listened, while you made inquiries about my husband’s whereabouts.
The hour was late, and eventually the crickets began to chirp so loudly that my husband complained he could not hear what you were saying or where you might be moving – to search for him. And so he ran downstream and into the forest, commanding again, with his last breath, “Don’t forget my food. Bring it to the usual place!”
Sirs, I continued to listen to your inquiries, then heard one of you say my husband was sentenced to death, then say, “Poor devil.” I couldn’t have been mistaken, for those words, “poor devil,” must have already been in my head waiting for you to set the same words adrift on the night air.
Sirs, these are terrible times. When I go to market, I no longer see meat for my children. Yet I see the wild eyes of beasts condemned to slaughter, meant to feed others. I hear people say all around, “Nowadays, sacrifices must be made.” I hear it in town, “war,” whispered after meals, “more death.” I see it on the faces of children who run in the streets. “Sacrifices” – I see it in the faces of women without men, men like Jósef without countries, without souls. Sirs, I know that my husband has been condemned to die, though I must admit, like you, I hardly know him – or that woman at the tavern. That is why I will risk your thinking I am not a loyal wife, because I know, as you know, that in these times sacrifices must be made. That is why I will take you to his hiding place, where I first startled Jósef Dobilas while I was picking mushrooms this past Pentecost, in hopes that, after hearing my deposition, that you, God help me, may spare his life – or, knowing this to be impossible, and considering my husband’s character, and considering my needs and the needs of my orphaned children for a good, God-fearing husband and provider, that you, that the new government, God help me, will quickly, very quickly, and without further delay, once and for all and forever, release Jósef Dobilas, poor devil, from all his earthly travails...