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Tłumaczenie ,,Kamizelki" B. Prusa

Autor /Florenty Dodano /11.11.2011

The Waistcoat

Some people have the desire to collect more or less expensive items, according to what one can afford. I also posses a collection albeit very modest as is usual in the beginning. There is my play, which I have written, while still at high school during latin lessons.... There are some dried out flowers, which will have to be replaced with new ones, there are... It seems, that there is nothing more, except a certain very old and well worn vest. There it is. Very faded in front and worn thin at the back. Many spots, no buttons, a hole in the side undoubtedly burned through by a cigarette. But the most interesting items on it are the adjusting bands. The one with the buckle is shortened and crudely sewn on, and the second almost it's entire length pierced by the buckle.

Looking at it one immediately comes to the conclusion, that the owner of this piece of clothing was becoming thinner daily until he reached a stage were the waistcoat ceased to be

indispensable, and instead of it a buttoned to the neck coat and tails from a funeral parlour was needed. I admit, that today I would gladly give this piece of rag away, as it is a bit of a problem. I haven't got a wardrobe for my collection, and I wouldn't like to keep such a waistcoat among my own things. However there was a time, that I bought it for a significantly higher price then it's worth, and would give even more if they knew how to trade.

There are moments in people's lives in which they like to surround themselves with items, which recall past sad experiences. One such sad experience did not involve myself, but my close neighbours. From my window I could look into one of their rooms every day. In April there were three of them: the Master, Lady and a small domestic, who slept, as far as I know, on a chest behind the wardrobe. The wardrobe was dark-cherry red. In July, if my memory doesn't fail me, only two were left: the Lady and Master, as the servant moved to a family, who paid her three rubels a year and a cooked meal daily. In October there was only the Lady left all by herself. That means not completly alone, as there were a lot of things left in the room: two beds, a table and wardrobe. However in the beginning of November the unnecessary pieces were sold at auction, and with the Lady remained only the waistcoat of which I am the owner now. One day, towards the end of November, the Lady called in a dealer of old unnecessary left overs to whom she sold her umbrella for two zlotys and her husbands waistcoat for forty groszy. After which she locked her flat and slowly crossed the courtyard. At the gate she gave the keys to the consierge, for a while looked at what used to be her window on which snowflakes were falling, then disappeared behind the gate. In the courtyard there remained the old jewish trader. He put up the wide collar of his coat, thrust the recently bought umbrella under one of his arms and wound red from the cold hands with the old waistcoat and laudly mumbled:

- Trade gentlemen, trade !

I called him to me.

- Have you, kind Sir, something to sell - he asked entering.

- No, I want to buy something from you.

- Surely, kind Sir does want the umbrella ? - asked the Jew.

Then he threw the waistcoat to the ground, shook off the snow from his collar with a great deal of trouble, and began to open the umbrella.

- What a lovely umbrella - he said. - For such snow, only one like that will do. I know,

that kind Sir can have one or two silk umbrellas. But they are only good for summer !...

- How much do you want for the waistcoat ? - I asked.

- What waistcoat ? - the Jew replied surprised, most likely thinking about his own.

But he quickly recovered and picked it up of the ground.

- For this waistcoat ? Kind Sir is asking about this waistcoat ?

Then his suspicion aroused, he asked:

- Why does kind Sir want this waistcoat ?

- How much do you want for it ?

The Jews yellow whites of his eyes lit up and the end of his long nose reddened even more.

- Would the kind Sir give a rubel ! - he replied spreading the article in front of my eyes,

in such way, as to show all of it's virtues.

- I will give you half a rubel.

- Half a rubel ?..... Such a piece of clothing ?..... It can't be. - said the dealer.

- Not a groszy more.

- Please kind Sir don't joke about it ! - he said, patting me on the arm. - You see yourself how much this item is worth. This article of clothing is not for a child, it is for adults.

- If you can't sell for half a rubel, then go. I won't give you any more.

- If only kind Sir will not become angry ! - he interrupted softening.

- It is against my conscience to give it away for half a rubel, but I will go along with your

reasoning. You tell me yourself: how much it's worth and I shall agree !... I would rather add

to it, as long as it's to your liking.

- The waistcoat is worth fifty groszy and I'm giving you half a rubel.

- Half a rubel ?..... Then let it be half a rubel !.... - he sighed, shoving the waistcoat in

my hands.

- Let it be my loss, before I catch a cold.... This wind.....

Then he pointed with his hand to the window, behind which the snow swirled furiously.

When I reached for the money the trader obviously suddenly remembering something, tore

the waistcoat from my hands and quickly began to search it's pockets.

- What are you searching for ?

- Maybe I have left something in the pocket, I can't remember. - he said in the most natural of voices and returning the waistcoat to me, he added:

- Could kind Sir give at least ten ?

- Farewell. - I opened the door and sent him on his way.

- I bow to you. - I also have at home a very decent fur....

And once again from behind the doorstep he poked his head inside and asked:

- Perhaps kind Sir would like to order some sheep's milk cheese ?.....

A few minutes later he again called out in the courtyard: ,,Trade ! Trade !"...., and when I stood in the window, he bowed to me with a friendly smile.

The snow began to fall so heavily, that it was almost dark outside. I laid the waistcoat on the table and I began to think of the Lady, who went out the gate, nobody knows where, then about their home standing empty next to mine, then again about the owner of the waistcoat, over whose grave a steadily thickening blanket of snow was building.

Only three month ago I heared, how on a sunny September day they were talking with each other. In May the Lady once even - hummed a song and he laughed reading the Sunday paper. And today.....

They moved in to our building at the beginning of April. They rose quite early, drank tea from a metal samovar and together went to work. She to give lessons, he to the office.

He was an every day office worker, who looked at his department managers with an admiration, of a tourist looking on Tatra mountains. He had to spend long days at work. I even saw him bend over the table, by the lamp, as late as midnight. His wife, usually sat with him and sewed. Sometimes she looked at him, interrupted her work and admonished him:

- That's enough for today, time to go to sleep.

- And when will you go to sleep ?

- I will just finish a few stitches.

- Well when, I will write a few more lines.

Again both bent their heads and did their work. After some time the wife said again:

- Go to bed ! Go to bed !

Sometimes, after her urging words my clock struck the hour of one. They were young people, neither beautiful, nor ugly, generally rather quiet. As I can remember, she was a lot slimmer then her husband, who was rather stout of built. I would say even too stout for such insignificant office worker. Every Sunday, about noon, they went arm in arm for a walk and returned home late in the evening. Probably they ate dinner in town. Once I met them at the gate, separating the Botanical Gardens from the City Park. They bought themselves two mugs of mineral water and two large pieces of ginger bread, wearing the quitet expressions of citicents used to eating hot ham and horseradish with tea. In general poor people don't need a lot to retain a healthy mental balance. Some food, a lot of work and good health. The rest takes care of itself. My neighbours, it seemed, did not lack food nor work. But their health was not always the best.

In July somehow the man cought a cold, although not too badly. At the same time by a strange coincidence he suffered such a serious haemorrhage, as to lose consciousness. That was during the night. After making him comfortable in bed, the wife called to them the consierge and herself ran for a doctor. She knocked on the door of five of them, before finding one by accident in a street.

The doctor, looking at her by the light of a street lantern, thought it necessary to calm her down, before anything else. As there was no cab inside and she seemed to stagger from exhaustion, he put his arm under hers and walking explained, that a haemorrhage does not prove anything concrete.

- A haemorrage can be from the throat, stomach, nose and rather rarely from the lungs. Anyway if a man has always been healthy, never coughed....

- Oh, only sometimes ! - whispered the Lady, stopping to take a breath.

- Sometimes, that's nothing. He could have bronchitis.

- Yes ! Yes ! It's bronchitis.

- Did he ever have pneumonia ?

- Yes ! - she answered stopping again, her legs swaying under her.

- Yes, but certainly a long time ago ?.... - querried the doctor

- Yes ! A long time ago - she answered hurriedly - during the last winter.

- A year and a half ago.

- No... But before the New Year.... Oh, a long time ago.

- Oh ! What a dark street, and the sky is clouded over. - said the doctor.

They went in to the house. The Lady asked the consierge fearfully: Anything new ? - and she got to know, that nothing new happened. In the flat, the consierge told her, she heared nothing and the sick man was asleep.

The doctor gently woke him up, examined him and said, it was nothing.

- I said in the beginning it was nothing - spoke up the patient.

- Oh, nothing ! - repeated his wife squeezing his perspiring hands. - I know, that it might be a stomach or nose haemorrhage. Yours is surrely coming from the nose. You are so stout, that you need to move more, but you are constently sitting. That's true doctor isn't it, that he needs to move more ?....

- Yes ! Yes ! Movement is absolutly necessary, but your husband has to lie in bed a few days. Can he move to a place in the country ?

- He can't... - she whispered sadly.

- Oh, well ! Then he has to remain in Warsaw. I shall be visiting him, and in the meantime - let him lie and rest. But if the haemorrhage should return - added the doctor.

- What then doctor ? - asked his wife, her face turning pale.

- Oh, nothing. Your husband will rest up, and the bleeding should stop.

- There in his nose ? - said the Lady, wringing her hands in despair.

- Yes of course, in his nose ! Please calm down, and leave the rest to God. Goodnight.

After the doctor's words the Lady calmed down somewhat, so that despite the fright she experienced during the last few hours, she fellt almost gay.

- Well it isn't quite so bad ! - she told herself crying and laughing a little.

She knelt by her husband's bed and began kissing his hands.

- Why so much ado ! - her husband repeated quietly and smiled. - People lose so much blood during a war and yet they become healthy again !

- Just don't say anything more - she begged him.

Outside it began to dawn. In summer the nights are very short.

The illness lasted a lot longer, then it was thought. The husband stopped going to his office, to which he could return when he wanted provided his place was still vacant. As staying at home seemed beneficial to his health, the Lady managed to get a few additional lessons with the help of which she kept the wolf at bay.

She usually went to town at eight in the morning, About one o'clock she returned for a few hours at home, to cook her husband's dinner, and then left again for some time. The evenings they spent together. The Lady, so as not to waste that time took on more sewing. One day towards the end of August, she met the doctor in the street. They walked for a while together. In the end she grabbed the doctor's hand and said in a pleading voice:

- In any case please come and visit us. Maybe God will be merciful.. Your visit always calms him down such a lot.

The doctor promised, and the Lady returned home looking as if she had been crying. Her husband, as a result of continual sitting, became sensitive and somehow doubtful. He began to complain to his wife, that she exaggerates in her care for him, that he despite it will die anyway, and in the end asked:

- Didn't the doctor tell you, that I shall not live longer then a few months ?

The Lady looked shocked.

- What are you saying ? - she said. - Why are you thinking so ?

The sick man became angry.

- Oh, come here ! - he shouted, grabbing her hands. - Look into my eyes and answer:

Didn't the doctor tell you that ?

Then he burried a feverish look into her eyes. His look was so intense, that it seemed even a stone wall would give up it's secret, if it had one.

A strange calm apeared on the women's face. She smiled gently in answer to his wild glare. Only her eyes seemed to have become glassy.

- The doctor said - she answered. - that it is nothing, but you have to rest.

The husband suddenly released her hands, began to tremble and laugh then waving his arm as if it were nothing, said:

- Well, there you see, how nervous I'm ! Somehow it seemed to me, that the doctor had daubts about me. However you have convinced me. Now I feel assured.

Then he laughed more and more at his forebodings. In any case such bout of suspicion never occured again. His wife's gentle calmness was the sick man's best indication, that the state of his illness was not too bad.

There was of course a cough, but - that was due to inflammation of his bronchial tubes. Sometimes, as result of long sitting there apeared some blood - from his nose. And, he also suffered from fever, but of course that was due to his state of nervousnes. In general, he felt better and better. He felt a great desire to go on long hikes, but - he lacked the strangth to do so. There even were times, that during the daytime, he didn't want to stay in bed, but set in an armchair fully dressed, ready to go, once the weakness has left him.

Only one datail worried him. One day, when putting on his waistcoat, it felt to be very loose.

- Have I lost as much weight as that ? - he whispered to himself.

- Of course, it's natural, that you had to lose some weight. But one mustn't exeggerate.

The husband looked at her sharply. She didn't even lift her eyes from her work. No, that calm could not be simulated. His wife has been told by the doctor, that he is not too ill to worry about.

In the beginning of September, symptoms like fever, where apearing more often almost for whole days.

- That's stupidity - the sick man told himself. - During the change from summer to outom even the healthiest person may not feel himself. But the only thing that worries me: why does my waistcoat seem to be bigger and bigger. I must have lost lot of weight and naturally until I get well, I want to put on weight.

His wife was keenly listning to his talk and had to admit he was right. Every day, the sick man got up from bed and dressed, although he couldn't dress himself without the help of his wife. She insisted that he put on an overcoat instead of the usual jacket.

- Isn't it strange - he would sometimes say looking in to the mirror. - that I have no strengh. But then just look at the way I'm.

- Well, a face can easly change - his wife would comment.

- True, but I seem to waist within me.

- Aren't you imagining it ? - she would ask doubtfully.

- Well, maybe you are right, but even so the last few days I noticed, that my waistcoat...

- Leave it be - she interrupted. - you certainly havn't put on weight...

- Who knows... Because judging by the waistcoat, then...

- In that case you should be regaining your strength.

- Oh, but not at once...First of all, I have to increase my bodyweight. I can tell you, that even when I regain my bodyweight, then I may not regain my strength at once. And what are you doing behind the wardrobe ? - he suddenly asked.

- I'm looking in the chest for a towel, and don't know if there is a clean one.

- Don't exert yourself too much, because the chest is terribly heavy...

And indeed the chest must have been very heavy, for her face became very red from the exertion. But she seemed somewhat calmed. Since that time, the patient paid more attention to his waistcoat. Every few days he would call his wife to him and say:

- Look at that. Convince yourself: yesterday I could put a finger in here, and today I can't. And indeed I'm beginning to regain my bodyweight.

One day, the sick man's joy knew no limits. When his wife returned from giving lessons, he greeted her with shinning eyes and said deeply moved:

- I will tell you a secret.. You see about that waistcoat, I did cheat a little. To allay your fears I was tightening the adjusting buckle every day - so that it would look tight on me. In that way I used the buckle to the end yesterday. I was worried by the thought, that you would spot it, when today... Can you quess what I'm going to tell you now ? Yes, today, on my word of honour, instead of tightning the buckle, I had to loosen it a bit. It was simply too tight, although yesterday it was somewhat looser. Even I know I'm going to get well... Let the doctor think what he wants.

His long speech weakened him to such an extent, that he had to go to bed. There, however, as a man, who is realy gaining weight, he didn't lay down, but leaned on his wife's arm.

- Well, well ! - he whispered. - who would expect such a thing... Over the last two weeks I have been cheating my wife, pretending that the waistcoat was too tight, and today it realy is so ! Well, well !

And so they set clinging to each other all evening. The sick man was moved like never before.

- My God ! - he whispered kissing the hands of his wife. - And I thought I'm going to go on wasting to... the end. For the first time, in the last two months I believe, that I'm going to get well. As we know everybody tells lies, at a sickbed, and the wife most of all. But a waistcoat - it can not lie.

Today, looking at the old waistcoat, I can see, that two people where continually adjusting it. The husband moved the buckle to calm his wife, and the wife was shortning the adjusting belt, to give her husband hope of getting better. ,, Would those two ever get together again to tell each other the whole secret about the waistcoat ?...." - I thought, looking to heaven.

There was not a clear patch of sky left above. Only cold heavy snow kept falling, so that even in the graves human remains where frozen through. Who can tell, that above those clouds there is no sun?....

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