LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2014 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 60, No.2 - Summer 2014
Editor of this issue: Almantas Samalavičius
A Story Begun But Not Finished
HERKUS KUNČIUS (b. 1965) is a graduate of the art history program at
Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts. He is the author of more than 20
published novels and short story collections. His most recent book is
Lietuvis Vilniuje (A Lithuanian in Vilnius, 2011). His books have been
translated into Polish, Russian, German, Swedish and Bulgarian. Last
year he won the prize for the Best European Short Story.
Jokūbas Nagurskis, the landlord of Kurtuvėnai Estate, looked in the mirror. He liked what he saw: a head shaved bald, a fleshy nose, a luxurious mustache, and a beefy face. His sturdy frame sported an ornate doublet covered by a tapered cloak, a gilded sash draped around his torso, and an inordinate quantity of medals.
"An eagle, a fearless falcon, Jokūbas Nagurskis, a buzzard, afraid of nothing," he was muttering to himself, as if in a sacred chant, while pulling over his head a hat embellished with the skin of a recently slaughtered lamb.
Partial to beauty, Jokūbas Nagurskis was Bailiff of Beržėnai, Elder of Pavenčiai and Gintališkės, Colonel of the Beržėnai and Šiauliai districts of the Grand Duchy of Samogitia, as well as Chamberlain of the Grand Duchy of Samogitia. He was esteemed even in Poland. When they awarded him the Order of the White Eagle, they told him it was "for services to the Homeland."
For several decades now, the widower Jokūbas Nagurskis had lorded it over the family's main residence, the Kurtuvėnai Estate and its town. His holdings also included Gintališkės, Kartena with its notorious inn, the estates of Pažyžmės and Gordai in the district of Kražiai, and the royal estates of Tui-biai, Ryliškės, Dvoržiškės, Vargeniai, and Maškiškės. Not to mention several estates in Vilnius.
Nagurskis never complained of insufficient wealth, and he could allow himself a lot.
On his estate's dinner table he could take pride in deep and flat English and Dutch plates, crystal wineglasses, fancy beer steins, and golden shot-glasses.
Though indifferent to Spanish wine, Jokūbas Nagurskis was partial to the Portuguese and the Italian grape and never refused to down capacious glasses of champagne by the dozen.
Nor did he ever complain of a lack of appetite. He took a flexible view of gastronomy and did not bellyache about bitter almonds, ginger, fresh olives, peppers, laurel leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, lavender spikes, rosemary, dates, and, of course, raisins.
He did not fancy red and especially black caviar, although he loved fish, as long as it was from the deep sea. Game meat he relished with Italian macaroni, Dutch cheese, and chestnuts.
He ascribed huge importance to dessert. He always required that dinner be served with no fewer than three sorts of coffee, and there absolutely had to be Chinese tea and lemon juice, not to mention French prunes, orange peels, apricot jam, and, of course, sugar, caramel, and chocolate.
Without these things, Jokūbas Nagurskis could not possibly imagine his life in Kurtuvėnai. In that respect, he was a typical citizen of the Republic in the second half of the eighteenth century: as the saying went, "when a Saxon king rules, you just drink, eat, and loosen your buckle."
Jokūbas Nagurskis looked at his sleekly narrow shoes, as always with their ends smartly pointing upwards. It was time to show himself to the local high society.
In the wooden barn converted into a theater, a few steps away from the manor house, the invited guests were already buzzing about: Count Ignacas Karpis, all powdered up, with his marriage-ready daughter Mirolanda Karpytė at his side; the rosy-cheeked Pastor Simonas Putvinskis; the timid-eyed Reverend Jokūbas Šmatovičius; and the gluttonous Samogi-tian boyars Zamgelovičius, Skaševskis, Brošelis, Moravskis, Podsiadto, Ružyckis as well as lesser gentry-folk from the Duchy of Samogitia. Nearby, you could also see the two sons of Jokūbas Nagurskis, who resembled each other ever so little: the strong-necked Jonas and the pale-faced Kajetonas.
Jokūbas Nagurskis sat down in his chair and loftily waved his hand for the show to begin.
When the buzz died down, there in the dusky Kurtuvėnai Manor barn the long-awaited spectacle of Italian comedians started. Rumor had it that Kurtuvėnai had never before witnessed such a thought-engaging performance.
Puppets rising above the curtain commenced enacting an edifying story about the naive wooden Pinocchio, his misadventures in the Land of Fools, and the hero's friendship with Malvina, the dog Artamon, and the whining Pierrot.
Jokūbas Nagurskis's eye was especially drawn to Karaba-sas Barabasas, a bearded man who oddly resembled the former lord of Kurtuvėnai Manor, Jokūbas's long-gone father, Pranciškus Nagurskis. Like the latter, Barabasas was mean, demanding, and unbending; he never went without his stick, used it like a stepfather, and displayed a stepmother's lack of kindness.
Events above the curtain went by furiously and dramatically. The Land of Fools was full of passion, treachery, envy, love, and faith, as it is everywhere on earth.
After Pinocchio had buried the gold coins, tension in the barn theater grew palpably, and there was no guessing how it would all end. The more sensitive nobles broke out in a sweat; somebody in the audience (it turned out to be Pastor Simonas Putvinskis) fainted and was pulled out into the fresh air.
Those with stronger nerves, though terribly upset, followed the play with bated breath and suffered deeply over Pinocchio's spiritual downfall. Several spectators identified themselves with the story's secondary characters: for some, it was Father Karl; for others, the blind cat or the hypocrite fox.
When the wooden Pinocchio finally found the golden key,the noblemen of Samogitia emitted sighs of relief; the boyars Brošelis and Skvaševskis even started weeping, and no one felt tempted to mock them.
The audience had hardly regained their composure when the puppets were replaced by a half-naked female gymnast.
Remarkable what this dwarf could do on the wooden beams just below the barn roof: she jumped up and down, rolled, writhed, turned, swung, crawled, and so on. Everybody wondered: would this gymnast smash to the ground, or wouldn't she?
No, nothing like that happened. The nimble little woman held her balance: she had strong hands, sturdy legs, a square head never before seen in Kurtuvėnai, and she was deaf and dumb to boot. For an encore, after gracefully sliding down a beam, she did a couple of miracles of flexibility: a bridge, a spread eagle, and a head-poke between her legs.
The dwarf was followed by a mime: a white-faced man stood on a block, but to the spectators it seemed he was walking.
He was tiptoeing, but going nowhere.
"Wait for us," shouted the jovial noble Zamgelovičius.
"Where are you rushing to?" ironically asked the tear-faced Skaševskis.
"Is Vilnius very far?" chuckled old Ružyckis, who knew of the ancient capital of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy only from legend.
"Unbelievable," said Jokūbas Nagurskis, as the mime was, as it were, moving faster and faster before finally taking off at a run.
This pleased not only the lesser nobles, but Count Ignacas Karpis as well; he could have spent hours watching the comedian seemingly walking but going nowhere. The same was true of Jokūbas Nagurskis: to him the pointless jerking of the mime seemed to suggest something, but he couldn't for the life of him think of what this might be.
Still, all this was new, hitherto unseen, and full of mystery.
After a half hour went by unnoticed, the comedians were now playing fiddles, blowing flutes, and strumming mandolins. And like a restless heart, inserted between the gymnast's thighs, there beat a little drum.
But soon everyone's attention was fastened upon a bo-somy songstress whose breasts were heaving unambiguously. Even the slow-witted Reverend Jokūbas Šmatovičius realized that culpable things were going on in that barn: the old man standing beside her was getting ready to seduce this morally indecisive singing girl.
On the other hand, the stud with a thick craw sang quite beautifully too, his body was taut, culpably active, and lustful.
"He doesn't love you!" Zamgelovičius, a man partial to affairs of the heart, blurted out.
"Grab her and drag her down to the cellar!" the noble Posiadto couldn't help saying. He knew some Latin, so the Italian text of the duet was no mystery to him: he knew what was going on.
"Stay away from him!" Lukrecija, the wife of the noble Brošelis, warned her angrily. "They're all like that!" she reminded her, when the singing girl finally stretched her hand out to her partner.
"He'll seduce and abandon her," the noble Moravskis said with certainty.
"Be quiet!" shouted Jonas Nagurskis.
"Yes, let us listen!" said Kajetonas, who was a little more educated than the others.
"Do you find me attractive?" asked Mirolanda Karpytė, inclining ever so slightly toward the young Jonas Nagurskis sitting next to her. Unfortunately, the lad didn't hear, immersed as he was in the Italian bel canto.
And that stuffed turkey with the red crop was still wooing the singer.
The cock sang sweetly:
La ci darem la mano,
La mi dirai di si.
That's how he was inviting the girl for a rendezvous in an outlying hut.
But she was saying:
Vorrei, e non vorrei.
And she was afraid to look him in the eye.
But he didn't let her be:
Partiam, ben mio, da qui.
He didn't let go of her hand and pressed her to start enjoying his intimate services.
"Adulterers! Perverts! Lechers!" said the pastor, who had just returned to the barn. He also demonstratively spat on the ground to show what he thought of Mozart (still unknown in Kurtuvėnai), his music, Italy, the Spanish rake Don Juan, and others of their ilk. As a child, Putvinskis had been educated by the Dominicans. "Shame on the Nagurskises! Shame!" He turned toward the door. "Inviting all these Macaronis to Kurtuvėnai, with all their slime..."
"Well, I liked it," said Kajetonas Nagurskis, not afraid to contradict the departing pastor while secretly sending an air kiss to the singer. She, it appeared, returned the gesture.
"We too like it very much," said the nobles Zamgelovičius and Ružyckis, not particularly known for their strict morality.
"So, go on, never mind him," urged Jonas Nagurskis.
"Don't pay any attention to that loudmouth," said old Jokūbas Nagurskis, trying to calm the somewhat distraught artists. It was only because of his efforts that Kurtuvėnai hosted the most illustrious comedy troupes from Europe.
"Sing, play, and entertain us provincials," he said, winking slyly at Count Karpis sitting next to him.
Ignacas Karpis got the irony, that's why he couldn't help snorting. A second later, he was holding his belly and guffawing heartily.
Jokūbas Nagurskis sat back comfortably in his easy chair and began
stroking his mustache: he was ready once again to experience aesthetic
pleasure in the barn of his manor.
"I am touched to the bottom of my heart," said Ignacas Karpis, as he ceremoniously shook Jokubas Nagurskis's hand. "It's been a long time since I've had such an enlightening experience." The guest, it seems, was being sincere; he felt spiritually uplifted. "How do you manage to draw comedians out of the deepest recesses to come up to our lands?"
"There's no mystery here: it's the crossroads," said Jokūbas Nagurskis, stealthily wiping his palm, damp with the count's sweat, on his kontusz.
"Yes, yes, now we're all living at the crossroads," Ignacas sighed. "Like sitting on a barrel of gunpowder. You never know who will barrel in next and when, from God knows where: Confederates, Austrians, Prussians, Turks, or Catherine the Second, with her Repnins and Vorontsovs," said Karpis.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it."
"It was an unforgettable experience," said Karpis, again reaching for Jokūbas Nagurskis's hand, but the latter had craftily tucked it behind his waist sash.
"Too bad you couldn't make it last time, when we saw a no-less rich performance: a group of French comedians; they brought with them not only a spur worn by the Maid of Orleans, but a stuffed talking parrot."
"You don't say?" cried Karpis. He hadn't yet heard anything about Orleans and talking parrots.
"It's God's own truth: it had a bare, red bottom, a grinning beak, and an upright red tail."
"Come to think of it: how full of everything our world really is! It has eggs, stuffed animals, statues, people, monkeys, pictures - you name it."
"I agree: it's an unfathomable mystery. Here, you think danger lurks, but when you delve deeper - all you see is joy all around."
"Even under the most adverse circumstances, you do know how to enjoy life," said the count, trying to flatter him. He had his reasons: he wanted his only daughter to marry into the Nagurskis family.
"What can you order done, when everything around you is going to pot?"
"I agree: we only live once," said Ignacas Karpis, powdering his face.
"But there, my dear count, I will dare to contradict you: there are things on the other side; there's a life after death, a life that smells no less sweet, a life diverse, colorful, and filled to the brim with meaning," said Jokūbas Nagurskis, now pleasantly surprised even by himself. What prompted him to dig so deeply into being? The naive pronouncements of Karpis tired him; yet his own utterances didn't make him feel terribly smarter.
"I don't doubt it in the least. But don't get me wrong," for some reason, Karpis started to apologize and made a fine curtsey. "Once in a while, a blasphemous thought strikes me," he went on, theatrically twirling a finger raised high above his head. "What if after death there's nothing? Imagine then how we err curtailing our desires, smothering our wild passions, and always acting morally, while each day painfully experiencing that the life we're leading is not as full as it could be."
"What are you saying?" Nagurskis said, irritated.
"I, of course, don't think so. But if we accept the false assumption that there's no God and no afterlife either, shouldn't we then relax and go after the fruit that is otherwise forbidden? After all, we won't ever have another chance at this," said Ignacas Karpis excitedly, not understanding that he was going against what he himself had just said.
"Are you talking about our regressing to a primitive state? Becoming bestial?" asked Nagurskis in a tone not particularly genial.
"No, I'm not suggesting we renounce our humanity," replied Karpis carefully, pulling a bit back from the always unpredictable Nagurskis. "I just thought that somewhere in the unfathomable past we lost hold of something very important."
"And what about the Fatherland, Honor, and Faith - these bright lights that do not allow us to stray from the right path?" asked the lord of Kurtuvėnai Manor angrily.
"But aren't these things so ephemeral?!" Karpis went on unperturbed. "Just consider: today, the Fatherland is here; tomorrow, it may have moved to there; and the day after tomorrow, it might be gone forever!"
"And Honor?" Nagurskis exclaimed, demonstratively revealing his chest and thereby showing off his motley medals.
"But don't we know enough people who live without Honor? And not only that - they prosper and are thought honorable."
"Who do you have me in mind, me?" asked Nagurskis, putting his palm on the hilt of his sword.
"By God, no," said Karpis.
"I doubt if living without Honor can make anyone happy," said Nagurskis, running his fingers over the hilt's pommel and nervously tapping it.
"I don't think they'd tell the truth if you asked them," said Karpis very quietly, almost in a whisper. "But again I'd like to know: a nobleman's Happiness - can it be sought without Faith, Honor, and Fatherland? Let's pretend we don't know these concepts, have never heard of them, and our vocabulary doesn't have the words for them. Maybe then that Maid of Orleans parrot would give you a thousand times more pleasure, and maybe looking at it would reveal things in us that we never suspected were there."
"I don't understand what we're talking about." Nagur-skis again felt annoyed and exhausted. "You suggest forgetting the most important thing. Going on like this would be just a short step away from abolishing the right of liberum veto. And that would mean only one thing: our destruction."
"Are you certain of that?" A devious smile played on Kar-pis's lips.
"Vincere, aut mori!" cried Nagurskis, perhaps a bit too loudly.
The spooked crows in the estate's park rose up, and the white droppings from one of them splattered next to the count.
"You've said it yourself: victory or death."
"These comedians gave rise to strange thoughts in you."
"It's spring," offered Karpis, light-heartedly.
"To me spring is the best time of year," said Nagurskis, looking towards the park and regaining his composure. Talking about nature and the hunt always quieted him down.
"By the way, visit me sometime. I can't promise you comedians, but I'll organize a hunt for the occasion."
"I accept this offer with humility and pleasure."
"But don't delay, come next week."
"Incidentally, not long ago, Lipskis, Paplavskis, Pši-bylskis, Pšezdeckis, and myself were in the neighborhood visiting Count Pšobovskis's estate," said Nagurskis, switching to a subject dear to his heart. "The ladies sat in the parlor while we went out into the yard: the lord intended to show us his young pure-bred steed. But suddenly he went wild, we were afraid to approach him," recounted Nagurskis, gazing somewhere into the distance. "But then - you won't believe it - a German baron visiting Pšobovskis suddenly jumped on this steed's back, frightening the horse and instantly taming it. He then rode through the open window into the parlor and made several turns at a walk, trot, and gallop. He jumped upon the table set for tea and had the horse perform its exercise routine. It treaded so nimbly that it broke not one saucer or cup."
"God's truth. Count Pšobovskis was deeply affected and gave the tamed steed to the baron as a gift."
"A royal gesture."
"The baron rode it to war against the Turks. Actually, can you guess when the war with Turkey might start?"
"At the moment, it would be unfavorable to Russia," said Ignacas Karpis, furrowing his brow: he didn't enjoy speculating on even the nearest future.
"But we're taking too long. Please accompany me to the table I've ordered set in the manor," said Jokūbas Nagurskis.
Mirolanda Karpytė settled on Jonas Nagurskis's arm.
"Let's take a walk."
Not much for words, Jonas Nagurskis obeyed. Nagurskis didn't feel at ease in the company of women. What can you talk about with them? How should you behave? And why do they chase men? It's hard to understand.
There were times when he got up the nerve to say something really important to his female companion, but she would suddenly interrupt him, often even starting to yawn ostentatiously. Then Jonas Nagurskis would stop talking and say nothing the rest of the day; let the women go to hell.
Of course, you could tell them what you saw: a tree, grass, a crow, a stork's nest, a stone-paved path and over there, the cellar, in which carrots and apples stay edible for a year and beets never turn bad...
Alas, the Kurtuvėnai manor park was not large and there was only one sky, so you couldn't avoid repeating yourself. Here we go again: the tree you saw, the grass is green, the barn is wooden...
Nothing else. What was there to talk about in the provinces at the end of the eighteenth century?
Talk about fashion, or about feelings?
But what can you say about feelings? Not a thing. Talk about the weather? That's for the birds. Everyone here in Samogitia, Lithuania, and even Poland knows perfectly well how shitty the climate is: it's cold in winter, passably warm in summer, and in fall it always rains. The springs are equally horrible.
So what else is there to talk about? To describe the clouds floating by, for example: this one is like a sailboat capsized in a lake; that one resembles the Gate of Paradise...
"And what is that?" Mirolanda Karpytė suddenly asked, her interest perked by a strange contraption next to the granary.
Jonas Nagurskis felt a surge of vigor.
"That's the flogging wheel," answered he, happy at finally finding a redemptive subject. "We punish serfs with it. Rods are fastened into the wheel's holes. When you turn the wheel with the handle, the serf gets flogged by the rods. Let me show you," he said, giving a wink to Mirolanda. "Come here!" he called to the man idling by the coach.
In a short while, the barefoot coachman, who had himself inserted the rods into the wheel, was lying bare-backed on his belly.
Jonas Nagurskis turned the handle.
"Here we go."
Slowly at first, then faster, ever faster, the flogging wheel spun, leaving ever more distinct marks on his back. The man happened to be patient, or maybe he valued his coachman's duties dearly, therefore he didn't even let out a whimper.
"More?" asked Jonas Nagurskis. His eyes glimmered strangely, his forehead was beaded with sweat.
"Doesn't your hand get tired?" Mirolanda asked, her face showing motherly concern.
"Not at all. It was built so you'd never tire."
"An interesting contraption. My father doesn't have anything like it."
"It's made of oak. Grandfather Pranciškus Nagurskis left it to us. He had it made by a local Kurtuvėnai craftsman."
In her heart of hearts, Mirolanda Karpytė wanted Jonas to stop turning that blasted wheel. Unfortunately, she was afraid to admit this; from her childhood on she had been a shy, well-educated, and very courteous young lady. On the other hand, Mirolanda Karpytė thought Jonas Nagurskis liked to turn the handle, so why should she take away the man's pleasure?
The sight turned ugly, the coachman, streaming blood, was having spasms.
Karpytė, breathless, found no strength to cry, "Enough!"
"Turning it this way you can even flog him to death," said Jonas Nagurskis, explaining the advantages of the wheel. "If you want, I can turn it the other way too."
"Can you?" asked Karpytė, not knowing what else to say.
"Of course," said Nagurskis, surprised at Mirolanda's slow-wittedness.
"Try it yourself."
Mirolanda touched the handle with her fingertips.
At first, she grasped it shyly, as if not trusting herself.
Suddenly, a heat wave rushed over her, an unexpected surge of strength.
Mirolanda turned it once, twice, a third time.
Not feeling any palpable resistance, she laid into it with both hands, turning it faster, ever faster, no longer seeing or hearing anything. After a while, she seemed stuck to it and couldn't tear herself away; she became one with the flogging wheel and its oak rods. She let herself slide ever more deeply into this delirious trip, this eternal motion into darkness.
Whop, whop, whop. The rods rhythmically flogged the coachman, now moribund.
"Faster! Faster!" Jonas Nagurskis egged her on.
"We're flying! Flying!" Mirolanda Karpytė yelled out, crimson-faced, putting all her weight on the handle.
"Perpetuum mobile!" Jonas Nagurskis couldn't help exclaiming.
"Perpetuum! Mobile perpetuum!" reaffirmed Mirolanda with the scream of a mad woman.
"Sacrum! Sacrum perpetuum mobile!"
"Samogitia perpetuum mobile!"
The manor's doorway suddenly revealed Kajetonas Na-gurskis standing there.
"What is taking you so long?!" he called impatiently. "Everyone is already sitting at the dinner table: only you two are missing!"
"We're coming!" said Jonas Nagurskis to his brother and told Mirolanda it was time to go.
more time, one last time, the very last," begged Karpytė, unable to
tear herself away from this fine Kurtuvėnai Park amusement.
The banquet table was laden with dishes. This time, Jokūbas Nagurskis had ordered treats from the forest: stewed deer, marinated venison, wild boar, partridge, fried dove, and hare with stewed apples.
There was plenty to drink as well. First they tasted Benedictine, then Portuguese wine, but when the Samogitian nobles (Skaševskis, Brošelis, and mostly Zamgelovičius) began to frown, they turned to and stuck with domestic vodka distilled in Kurtuvėnai at a Jew's distillery.
The hospitable host, Jokūbas Nagurskis, did not neglect the comedians: they were feted in the barn. There they could enjoy lukewarm vodka and a broth cooked from cow's feet and cow tails - a Kurtuvėnai delicacy.
Not used to fatty foods, the Italian comedians shrugged, made faces, and freely heaped criticism on the local gastronomy.
When the estate manager, Varlamas Žuravliovas, insistently urged them to down their glasses, the weaker ones began to choke and, their eyes popping out, were looking around for something to "extinguish" the fiery vodka. There was nothing left but to take a sip of that horrible broth.
At first, the comedians found it just so-so. But in a short time, appreciating the bouquet of flavors and odors wafting from the vat in which this dinner party's only dish was steaming, the Italians began bustling about it with their wooden spoons.
The comedians weren't disappointed; the results surpassed their boldest dreams. Especially when the manager, Varlamas Žuravliovas, explained that the fatty supper they were consuming saturated the stomach, so if you drank immoderately you wouldn't get drunk: you could imbibe as much as you want and not feel a thing until early morning.
"And after early morning?" one of the comedians nevertheless inquired, like a doubting Thomas.
"And what can happen after early morning?" the manager asked in amazement. "You wake up like you'd been born anew. Your head is bright, your thoughts clear, you have an immense will to live," Žuravliovas told the comedians and put an end to any lingering doubts. He himself had wandered in from Russia, so he knew what he was talking about.
all these guarantees, the heartened comedians could not get enough of
the vat's goodies; after all, they were thirsty and hungry after their
show in the barn.
The feast in the smoky drawing room of the manor became ever more boisterous - even the girders began to creak.
It was unbearably hot and stifling, with the candles burning and the dim oil lamps glowing.
The noble Moravskis, having just bitten off the edge of a plate, was happily chewing the Nagurskis porcelain. Stealthily, he tried to discern whether Brošelis's wife, Lukrecija, saw how fine he was this evening.
The noblemen Zamgelovičius and Skaševskis, accompanied by a torrent of homemade vodka, forgot their earlier differences and decided to make peace for all time.
"Let's become blood brothers," offered the noble Skaševs-kis, his consciousness fogging.
"Like pissing on two fingers," said the noble Zamgelo-vičius in perfect agreement and drove a table knife into his own palm.
"My little brother, oh brother of mine," said Skaševskis tearfully and placed his own bloody palm on Zamgelovičius's open wound.
The men jumped up and embraced.
Then they kissed; it was a long kiss, very long, as was proper on such occasions - a strong and hot kiss, directly on each other's lips.
The noble Brošelis at that moment felt rejected, not needed by anyone, and of no interest to the nobility of Samogitia. Emboldened by his anxiety, he decided not to be outdone by these newly related boyars. He wanted to prove himself no less capable of enduring pain, so he began to mutilate himself.
At first, Bošelis plucked his mustache, then he stuck a fork into his wrist; finally, he cut his neck with a shard of glass and sniggered.
Podsiadto and Ružyckis, recalling a recent meeting at the regional Diet, started to argue again. Smacking each other on the cheek, they were ready to draw swords and fight it out on the spot. Unfortunately, the circumspect host, Jokūbas Nagur-skis, as always, had already disarmed his guests. He knew from experience that the nobles had hot tempers; that's why he made sure to seat only disarmed men at his banquet table.
"I will not blow in your ass: I'll show you some Samogi-tian boyar honor!" screamed a red-faced Podsiadto.
"I shit and stomp on such honor!" answered the boyar Ružyckis, who wasn't intending to concede.
"Cut it out, you men," implored Brošelis's wife, Lukrecija. "Sit your butts down!"
"God is love," said the pastor Simonas Putvinskis, appealing to their religious feelings. "God - that's love," he repeated, picking his teeth distractedly with his index finger.
"Make room, give the nobles more room!" said Reverend Jokūbas Šmatovičius, as he pushed away spectators crowding in on the feuding boyars. "Whip each others' asses!" the priest urged them on, as the boyars, now livid, were about to strangle each another.
Jokūbas Nagurskis looked upon these proceedings with great compassion. To the elder Nagurskis, the passions of the boyars were never alien. He himself had punched his neighbor in the nose more than once, whenever he suspected that the lat-ter's opinions were at odds with his own code of honor. What's more, Jokūbas Nagurskis adored duels. He couldn't imagine any feast, even the humblest, without conflict, fighting, and blood, of course.
Such were the customs of the Sarmatians. Even if gruesome, they were their own; it would be sacrilegious not to observe them.
"I'll forget, but never forgive," said the noble Zamge-lovičius, suddenly recalling a grievance from pagan times.
"If I manage to fart out my ass, I won't put it in the bushes. If you don't want to fart as one ass, I'll use it to plough with, I'll whip it for you," replied his blood brother Skaševskis, all fired up.
"Go shit!" yelled the boyar Zamgelovičius, jumping from the table.
"Men, shit from the same asshole," said the pastor Simonas Putvinskis, urging the boyars to make peace again. "Fart from one ass," he added, and inspected with interest what he had picked out of his ear this time.
Jokūbas Nagurskis was highly pleased. As always, his feast was going smoothly, without any misunderstandings.
For some time now, the self-mutilated boyar, Brošelis, had been moaning sadly. Suddenly, as if terrified by the light or perhaps the hunting trophies hanging on the wall, he started to blow out the candles.
"I want to dance," declared Mirolanda Karpytė in the darkening hall, precisely at the moment Zamgolevičius treacherously smacked the boyar Skaševskis on the forehead.
"Let's have music!" shouted Kajetonas Nagurskis, hitherto sunk into a sad reverie.
"Get those comedians to the manor!" roared Jonas Nagur-skis: he too wanted to shake a leg.
"They would make a nice couple," Ignacas Karpis whispered into Jokūbas Nagurskis's ear.
The latter did not reply; he pretended not to have understood the hint.
Emboldened by the home-brewed liquor, the Italian comedians played coy: they had come to Kurtuvėnai, for the sum of money agreed upon, just to perform one play. There had been no negotiations for an additional performance, or so they blindly argued. But when the manager Žuravliovas showed them the flogging wheel next to the granary, they sobered up immediately. Moreover, when it was responsibly pointed out to them that they'd be whipped right away, they suddenly rushed out to entertain the Samogitian nobility, so thirsty for entertainment.
Thus after midnight there began an unplanned second appearance of the comedians at the manor.
The sound of flutes, cymbals, violins, and harps had a tranquilizing effect on Nagurskis's guests.
Ignacas Karpis, taking pleasure in the minuet his only daughter Mirolanda was dancing with Jonas, blissfully belched. Jokūbas Nagurskis was satisfied with everything too, and after loosening the sash squeezing his belly, he nodded off.
Zamgelovičius and Skaševskis calmed down at last. The first kept his eyes open, but no longer saw anything with them. The second slept the sleep of the righteous: he snored and hiccupped, and in no way had any control over himself.
Soothed by the Italians' music, the boyar Brošelis found comfort when he placed his head on Lukrecija's hips and allowed himself to be softly scratched around his ear.
Moravskis embraced pastor Simonas Putvinskis around the waist and was happy too: he imagined he was intimately rubbing himself against the Russian Empress Catherine II, ever so desirable.
This scene put the Reverend Jokūbas Šmatovičius in a melancholy mood, for he thoroughly disliked the pastor. Deep in his heart, Šmatovičius rejoiced at having one more pretext to denounce the pastor, on moral grounds, to the ecclesiastical higher-ups.
Only the eternally pale Kajetonas Nagurskis was restless; he poured himself one goblet after another, no longer counting how many he drank this night.
Suddenly Kajetonas perked up and started to listen to a velvet voice:
All you ask for, I cannot give.
You want to be just friends, but not to love me
Oh no, oh no, I can't, I can't be with you!
All you ask for, I cannot give.
That's what the bosomy songstress crooned early in the morning, ensconced on the knees of Kajetonas Nagurskis.
"Why didn't I pay attention to her earlier?" thought Kajetonas through the fog in his head.
She really was a charming comedienne. With noble patrician bearing, an honest face, not marked by vice, a pure forehead, thick eyebrows, no wig, and piercing eyes, perhaps?
A milk-white body hidden from me... A rock-hard bottom. A chin with a hollow. Soft lines everywhere. Where are the right angles?
...And a marble bosom. The hands. The no less beautiful fingers, the moist palm... The foot perhaps is small, very small... To get up now, to remove the miniature shoe... And to fill it and drink from it.
"Bella!" Kajetonas Nagurskis could not help exclaiming. "Bellissima!" He suddenly felt he'd fallen in love with this stranger. "Bellissima donna." Kajetonas was losing his mind.
"De Neri, Marie," - the comedienne said, wetting her lips with her tongue and offering them to be kissed.
"Mia bella, mia bella," Kajetonas kept on babbling, not much comprehending what was going on. "Mia bella, mia bellissima." He did not notice how his brother Jonas had just left the hall in pursuit of the deaf-and-dumb Italian gymnast.
Mirolanda Karpytė sat down to catch her breath. After her dance with Jonas Nagurskis she felt tired.
She closed her eyes, they fastened together thoroughly.
"It's love! No, it's that sneaky Benedictine who's making me sleep," Mirolanda thought, just a second before plunging into darkness.
We don't know how much time had passed, but when she awoke, Jonas Nagurskis was no longer at her side.
Initially, she didn't give it much thought; he'll be back, of course.
Alas, time went by, and Jonas didn't return.
Mirolanda began to worry, because none of the guests was able to explain coherently where her future fiance had disappeared to.
She poured herself a glass of port and downed it.
Then she decided to act.
At first, Mirolanda looked under the table, but only Brošelis and Posiadto were resting there, sound asleep.
Then she looked under and behind all the benches and chairs; Jonas Nagurskis was not to be found anywhere there either.
She walked around the entire manor hall, looking into every corner.
In the deepest recess, there was Ružyckis, sitting on the shit-bin and smiling, his trousers down around his ankles. Apparently, he had forgotten his native language and was babbling some abracadabra to Moravskis, who was just a heap at his feet. But standing there were Zamgelovičius and Skaševskis: they were measuring something with very serious faces. But when their eyes met Mirolanda's, both turned away in shame; they didn't even respond to her request to know where Jonas Nagurskis had suddenly disappeared to.
Lighting her way with an oil lamp, Mirolanda went outside: maybe Jonas had gone out to breathe some fresh air.
Unfortunately, there was nobody outside the manor hall either, nobody admiring the star-studded sky or looking at the impressive full moon.
Mirolanda was now intent on finding her Jonas, come what may; but neither the carrot beds, nor the gardens, nor the bushes, yielded any traces of the man closest to her heart.
No sign of him in the serfs' cottages, hog pens, storehouses, stables, or the cellar either. The servants' building was locked; the cemetery was empty of living souls; and Jonas was not hiding behind the crosses there. The church?
Driven by curiosity, Mirolanda broke a window and clambered through. But Jonas was not to be found in the church, neither behind the altar, nor in the confessional, nor behind the stations and holy pictures.
Climbing into the belfry, Mirolanda fell to her knees, tore her fancy dress beyond repair, and scraped her knees.
Suddenly, the injured Mirolanda got the idea that Jonas had probably gone to the Jew's tavern and was keeping company there with the commoners, listening to old Samogitian legends, and imbibing the local atmosphere. But there were only sullen faces sitting around the inn, and Mirolanda did not have the nerve to ask the drunken peasants if they had seen her Jonelis.
Mirolanda also went around the Jew's distillery several times and listened for the slightest whisper or rustle, but didn't hear a thing.
She got the idea to check out the synagogue. But the fear, instilled in her since childhood, that the Jews might kill her and mix her Christian blood into matzo dough, kept her from taking this incautious step.
But her anxiety increased steadily. What if Jonas had fallen victim to some terrible misfortune?
Where was her Jonelis?
Driven by a dreadful premonition, Mirolanda kept walking around the estate's park. Squinting, she tried to make out if that was a drowned man floating in the pond. When she was convinced it wasn't, she went around and inspected every Kurtuvėnai well; but calling out Jonas Nagurskis by name yielded no response whatsoever.
She roamed, silently now; everywhere, there was only silence around her. She didn't know where she was going or what she was doing.
Clouds covered the star-lit heaven and hid the moon.
Worn out by her search, Mirolanda began to lose hope. Her consciousness dimmed; almost out of her mind, she began climbing the maple trees in the park, thinking she'd find her loved one in some crow's nest.
When these efforts turned out to be in vain, she decided to light her way better. Spilling some lamp oil, she wanted to set fire to a haystack directly in front of her. She giggled at the thought that soon the whole of Kurtuvėnai would brighten and warm up.
"Mirolanda?" she heard a familiar voice ask.
"Jonas!" she said joyfully at finally having found her lover.
"I..." Jonas Nagurskis couldn't find anything to say as he came crawling out of the haystack. "I... We're... It's not..." he was babbling, feeling he had committed a mortal sin.
"Jonelis, my Jonelis," cried Mirolanda, clasping her hands around his neck, embracing him, and bursting into tears.
Jokūbas Nagurskis only came round three days later, just before mid-day. He was lying outstretched upon his down bed, snug and safe, but with a splitting headache. His clothes were strewn all over the place; the shoes and medals testified that he had relaxed quite properly, perhaps even a bit too much.
He'd have snoozed a little more, if not for the flies that were buzzing around and irritating him.
And a woodpecker was annoyingly hammering in the park. The scoundrel. To Nagurskis, it seemed the bird was pounding a wedge straight into his head.
His stomach was churning. His joints ached. His eyes watered. His mouth was a pigsty, a horse stable - you get the idea.
A wasp was ferociously attacking the bedroom window. It was banging around wildly, the parasite.
Jokūbas Nagurskis forced himself to get up. Barefoot and in his nightshirt, he tiptoed over to the window, groaning. He squashed the annoying bug against the glass with his nightcap. There. You won't bother the ailing lord anymore.
He felt thirsty.
Jokūbas Nagurskis drank some water from the pitcher then suddenly felt intoxicated once again.
In his head, he saw and heard a salvo of multicolored fireworks going off. Maybe if he lay down for a while, he'd doze off again.
But lying in bed, he found himself yearning for some sour cabbage juice. He nervously rang the bell, calling his servant.
As if he had just come from a decisive battle, Nagurskis felt himself a loser, humiliated, exhausted, disarmed. Unconsciously, his thoughts turned to holy things: the church; tomorrow, he would most certainly invite this architect named Knakfuss from Vilnius. He'll build a new brick church in Kurtuvėnai to rival any in Vilnius and name it St. James. He'll go there himself, alone. He'll also be buried in that church, in the mausoleum.
Sad thoughts came over Jokūbas Nagurskis; he chased them away. He felt nausea rising and threw up.
But to tell the truth, contemplated Jokūbas Nagurskis, I suffer now, and yet how much good I've done in my life: I've put my estate in order, raised two virtuous sons, and haven't neglected spiritual things either.
I, Jokūbas Nagurskis, hired Šelis and Klimovičius from Vilnius and they built the small organ in the church. Everybody's happy now; the Jews are envious. When the organ plays, the serfs fall on their knees. And they make the sign of the cross again and again: they're not forgetting their consciences.
I have no regrets. I'm not sorry for anything. From my meager savings, I paid out two hundred talers and eight gro-schen, I even added two barrels of rye, one of barley, and half a barrel of wheat. I'd have given them more, only my inborn modesty wouldn't allow it.
I also persuaded the Franciscan friars, I invited them to come to Žaiginiai and unselfishly sponsored their monastery.
That time I really splurged. Did anyone thank me for it? No. Did I hear at least one good word from Pastor Putvinskis? No.
That arrogant, unreasonable, cruel, and greedy pastor misses no opportunity to slander me in the eyes and ears of the hierarchy. He denigrates me to the Samogitian nobility, as if I were only interested in amusements.
This makes me angry. It is only thanks to me, Jokūbas Nagurskis, that a church and belfry were built in Šukotas.
I'm not Karpis, not Putvinskis, not Šmatovičius, not Lip-skis, not Paplavskis, and not Pšibylskis. I established a serfs' theater in the barn: let the people of Kurtuvėnai enjoy themselves - do I begrudge them that?
And how much money did I spend on entertainments, receptions, and parties in Vilnius! I could have fed half of Samogitia. And for what? I didn't do this for myself or for my political career. I did it for others, for my neighbors and my country, for the Republic.
And what did I get? A splitting head, the shakes, numb limbs. Didn't I at least deserve some sauerkraut juice!?
There was a timid knock on the bedroom door.
"Come in!" Jokūbas Nagurskis yelled angrily.
A servant carrying a tray stood in the doorway, but for some reason did not dare look his lord in the eye. He just writhed and bowed in humility and then retreated, walking backward. Since he'd gotten what he wanted, Jokūbas Nagurs-kis brightened up and forgot his pain.
He drank, greedily.
And one more goblet, bottoms up.
The sauerkraut juice was cold and refreshing, just up from the cellar.
Things were looking much better. One could live again, be charitable once more, protect what was dear, spread light, sow good, foster spirituality, and increase these good things manifold - without end.
Jokūbas Nagurskis tore open the envelope placed on the tray beside his juice. Though they often were half-a-year late, the newspapers brought to Kurtuvėnai by the post - Kurjer Litewski, Kurjer Polski, Gazette d'Utrecht, and some others - allowed people to orient themselves in the current world, to learn what's new in politics, to be in the midst of decisive events.
"And what will you cheer me with today?" Jokūbas Na-gurskis asked, as if addressing a dear old friend, as he opened up the always-welcome Kurjer Polski.
At first he didn't believe it; he thought it was an evil rumor. Newspapers often write balderdash. But then the printed words fell upon Jokūbas Nagurskis unmistakably, undeniably, with the full weight of truth: Prussia and Russia (this time without Austria) had again partitioned the Republic between themselves!
This enraged Jokūbas Nagurskis no end. Losing control of himself, he hit his chin with his fist, naively believing this might wake him from a bad dream. No, it was no dream, no morning-after hallucination.
Jokūbas Nagurskis began to huff and puff and bluster. There arose in him a desire to humiliate Russia, to take revenge on Prussia, to punish Austria.
Taking hold of an imaginary sword, Jokūbas Nagurskis engaged in a battle with a three-headed monster: in one fell swoop, he cut off the heads of the Russian-Prussian-Austrian monster then kicked them furiously, as far away as possible.
He cleared his throat and spat.
It was hard to believe that the peaceable Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had already lost Daugpilis, Vitebsk, Polotsk, Mstislavl, and Gomel, had now also lost the voivodeships of Kiev, Bratslav, Podolia, and Minsk, the territories of Brest, and the eastern parts of the voivodeships of Volhynia and Vilnius.
This was a particularly nasty surprise, hurled like a thunderbolt from a clear sky.
And just think of it: barely a few days ago, we had such a carefree fiesta in Kurtuvėnai, Jokūbas Nagurskis said to himself. What a fine and memorable appearance was put in by the Italian comedians, what pranks were played by Skaševskis and Moravskis, how charmingly Brošelis's wife Lukrecija appeared with a burning candle tucked between her legs, how inventively Zamgelovičius entertained the snoozing guests when he stuck an elk's horn on Ružyckis's snoring head.
These emerging memories of the feast made Jokūbas Nagurskis dizzy again. Sleep descended uninvited into his warm goose-down bed once more.
Before falling asleep, Jokūbas Nagurskis's inner voice seemed to call to him to rise, saddle his steed, pick up his weapons, and act with courage in the defense of Liberty, the Republic, and himself.
Unfortunately, on that day in 1793, there was no strength left for him to get up.
Translated by Mykolas Drunga