[Katherine’s story is preceded
by a poem written by William Orton (sometimes
fictionalised as ‘Michael’) and a drawing of Floryan
Sobieniowski (by Casimir
Wilkomirski ) appears in the middle of the pages. Floryan is listed
on the title page
as Rhythm’s Polish correspondent.]
I sat at the table writing letters. In a corner of the room, beside
the stove, Konrad and
the Little Father were playing "sixty-six." It was very
warm in the room. On a long
bench, before the side windows, there were pink and brown chrysanthemums
growing in a china trough. They seemed to be expanding before my
eyes in the
autumn sunshine that streamed over everything—their patterned
leaves painted a
grotesque shadow on the floor —a shadow that seemed too delicate
and fine for the
heavy room, the massive furniture and our health and laughter. It
quivered as though
longing to go back and hide among the petals of the plants.
Curious fancy, this, the terror of captive shadow. For a moment
I wanted to write
about it to F. Instead, I told him that Gertrud had baked a "zwetschgentorte"
his arrival, that twice the Little Father had been caught in the
act of stealing a piece;
it was beautiful, and
covered with the thick sort of sugar that he loved!
Michael's couch was drawn up before the front windows. He alone
was silent. He lay
back, his knees covered with a little quilted rug, reading the newspaper,
frowning at the pages. I caught the other two watching him, we three
glanced at one
another, smiled and nodded superciliously. We knew that any moment
we might be
the victims of an outburst—a tirade against Russia—denunciation
it would end in a storm of tears and maudlin sentiment until I got
up and dried his
eyes and said: "But Michael dear, truly it is not so bad as
you think—wait a little."
Then, exhausted, he would leave us in peace. "Michael is much
weaker," I wrote to
F., "and so difficult to manage. You could not believe it to
be the same boy who
climbed over the roof with us and threw stones down the Police Prefect's
chimney—then was so adorable to the Police Prefect, do you
remember, that he
asked us all to supper. How long ago that is! The Little Mother
is the only one of us
who does not lose patience with him. After all, he ought to realize
that we have so
short a holiday at home and no time to be eternally sympathetic.
Konrad and I let off
steam by long walks only to come back and find the Little Father
in tears because he
was not allowed to lose his temper and Michael had been so idiotic."
I paused and nibbled the penholder.
"Blood of a dog," cried the Little Father. "How many
devils have you got among the
cards — you wretched fellow."
"Youth against age," laughed Konrad. He beckoned to me.
"Come over and look at
I went. Standing beside him I put my arms round his neck, rested
my chin on his
shoulder and watched the play. He had the most amazing luck, kept
rubbing his head
against my cheek and chuckling.
"Tak-Tak," the Little Father spitting out the word.
The newspaper rustled to the floor. We glanced carelessly at Michael—
presumably postponed. He was lying back on the couch, his eyes closed.
The door opened and the Little Mother came in, her apron gathered
up in one hand,
her round face red with excitement. "After the gale last night,"
she said, "the orchard
is full of fruit, one
cannot walk a step. And such a fine crop, see children!"
She spread out her apron and showed us the great apples and pears.
them on to the table; started polishing them one by one. "You
must spend the whole
afternoon gathering them. Dimitri can't stoop because of his back,
but it will do you
young things good to stretch
yourselves a little."
"Mother," said Michael. He sat up. "Give them to
me, I'll polish them. I've got a
clean handkerchief. Put them on the quilt here."
She suddenly bit her lip, the tears started to her eyes. I saw that
she felt she had been
unkind in speaking so before the invalid. With trembling hands she
carried the fruit
to him and then, not trusting herself to speak, hurried from the
Michael's persistent frown deepened. We all felt uncomfortable,
and the Little
Father, throwing down his cards asked Konrad to go with him, and
help poultice the
horse. I gathered up my writing things, but felt a decent interval
must elapse before I
left Michael alone.
He picked up an apple and held it in the palm of his hand.
"I know what tree you grew on," he said. "You're
one of the 'pink all through' sort.
Father thrashed me once for cutting my name on the bark of that
I sat staring in front of me. I noticed that the sun had moved round
the corner of the
Michael's voice: "And these pears, there's the bench round
that pear tree where we
used to have tea after school in the summer. I carried the samovar
for Gertrud. Once
I carried the cups, and dropped them all. We used to have to fish
out the little pieces
of leaf and petal before we drank. . . . I helped Dimitri cut the
orchard grass one
year—I smelt of it for days.
I remember, at night, the trees in the moonlight looked as though
they were standing
in pools, sometimes like immense white birds; there was that cherry
tree we always
called the stork. . . "
He gathered all the fruit up and sat with his hands spread over
it. He began to cry,
very slowly, the tears dripping down his face— And now the
sun, shining through
the front windows painted on the bare floor the shadow of Michael
with his lap full