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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter IX: The Sad Truth of the Legend


Troki, Braclaw, Wilno, Old Miadziol, Lithuania, Swinka, Kruglaki, Wysoczka, Lake Miadziol, Kruglaki, Wereczata, Postawy, Kobylnik, Uzla, Narocz


Speculative/Fictionalised account of late 18th century Polish / Lithuanian nobility - principally the last generation of the Kosszczyc family.

Further reading

Wikipaedia is excellent on the turbulent history of Poland, Lithuania, Balarus. A good starting point is Grand Dutchy of Lithuania, then explore the links at the bottom of the page

Chapter IX: The Text

FOLK say that if one gazes too long into the depths of this lake, nothing good will come of it, and one may easily lose one's reason, and even more.

Koszczyc was convinced that a cruel fate had hound him to the lake with its fatal power, but now it seemed that this evil had lost its power and become good.

The young heir's christening went off splendidly. One of the first pair of godparents was Count Tyszkiewicz, whom the King himself had designated as proxy. Besides this the King, as evidence of special favour and trust, sent a letter in his own hand and a beautifully painted portrait. Forty pairs followed Tyszkiewicz as godparents.

At the christening banquet the King's representative sat down with three voivodes: that of Troki, of Braclaw, and Prince Radziwill of Wilno. My Lord Bishop Massalski presided at the high table, and at the others sat down no fewer than 400 gentry of both sexes. All the houses in Old Miadziol were swept and garnished for the reception of the guests.

The sheriff behaved magnificently, not like a "squire" but like some great magnate. His lady sat down to the banquet with the others (which she had not done for years). Long years of illness and trouble had left their traces on her face, which was still very beautiful. She was dressed in a gown of gold Lyons brocade cut in the latest Paris fashion, and wore a diadem of rubies and emeralds which her husband had given her on the birth of their son. This diadem was valued at 15,000 golden ducats at least.

The happy father remembered everyone. First came the Carmelite Fathers, whose monastery received a village with three farms as a perpetual gift. Also Koszczyc told 16 of his liege men to remit all punishments on their people, taxes and so on, and gave his servants twice their yearly wages. So that even the beasts should share in the happiness ot their master, he ordered that the horses should, for three months, receive double fodder.

The infant was given at the christening the double name of Wladyslaw August. This caused much amazement and some scandal, for these names were not known in the Koszczyc family, but the father's word was law. When asked why he had chosen these names instead of that of St. Justinius, for instance, who, brought from Rome, was now patron saint of Miadziol, he only smiled.

Everything, both good and bad, has its end-so too the christening, and the rejoicing connected with it, were soon over. The guests went their various ways, the Tartars came back to their huts, and everything went on as before. Thus it was from that June to the next. During this time unrest spread over Lithuania. The first omens of new, dreadful times lurked hidden in the clouds on the horizon, soon to fall with all their weight on the unfortunate land. The coming events were to change everything, and so to alter reality itself in the future that people stood still and, rubbing their eyes, asked one another : "How can it be? Are we still on earth? Do we still walk with our feet on the ground?" But the lake murmured as before. Doggedly it threw its waves of drab grey or green, sometimes gentle, sometimes angry, on the sandy shores. It added sand to the shoals, felled the more daring trees, and spun the whirlpools in the depths.

A year passed. From June to June. The sun smiled, bees buzzed busily, ducks led their well-grown ducklings in and out of the marsh marigolds. Wolves hunted careless hares among the raspberry thickets, the elks fled before the drought into the depths of the swamps, followed by the ptarmigan and blackcock.

Then it happened that on Cimoszkowszczyzna farm the peasants revolted, for the bailiff was a scoundrel and a drunkard, and collected taxes without keeping any books. Koszczyc, hearing of this, seized a pair of pistols and a stout knout. Accompanied by two lower servants he set off as fast

as possible. Arriving unexpectedly, he set h-ee the besieged bailifl'. caught the peasants, gave the less guilty a beciting and ordered the ringleaders to be shackled and taken to Miadziol in carts, accompanied by his servants. He himself inspected the damage done to the farm, and then set off alone, thinking to return home by Swinka, Kruglaki, and Wysoczka through the woods by a. short cut.

At first his road lay by the edge of Lake Miadziol, on steep slopes thinly overgrown by small pines mixed with hazels. Evening came on, but the sheriff was not afraid of the dark.. The nights at this season were as light as day, and the road ran straight as a die almost without a bend right to the very village. The frogs in the lake croaked, and from time to time could be heard overhead the flutter of birds returning from the lake. The sheriff rode and nodded somnolently in the saddle. To keep himself from falling asleep he clicked the beads of his rosary, muttering prayers, but he was thinking of something else. He was happy, but one thing gave him no peace: How would it be with the promised crown? He thought: "The old man he deceived me, the rascal! No matter, the main thing is that the family is safe!" At this his horse dug in his hooves and drew suddenly aside, and the sheriff nearly fell off. Angrily he peered ahead.

It seemed to the sheriff that in front of his horse on the forest track stood a figure, but in the gloom it was difficult to make out its shape. Everything was silent, only the horse snorted and shivered, pawing with its fore hoofs and showing every sign of a decided wish to turn back in a pirouette. He patted its neck.

"Who's there?" he asked.

There was no answer. The sheriff would have sworn that someone stood in the road.

"Who's there? Speak or I fire!" he shouted louder, reaching with one hand tor his holster.

At this moment the horse reared. Something flashed. The sheriff's hair stood on end, for he saw how towards him, at just the height of a man, there floated two round eyes gleaming with a greenish fire. Struggling with his horse, which had gone quite mad, and, groaning, bucked and tugged at the bit, he managed to draw his pistol and fire, 1 he eyes vanished. He spurred his horse, turned about and galloped off at full speed. Only to reach the edge of the forest! This was not far. About 200 yards away was Kruglaki, where they weighed the pitch, and where a few of the pitchburners were always to be found, for there they had their huts and campfires not far from the road. But no fires, nor smoke, nor pitchburners could the sheriff see, though he looked hard. However, he hoped, even though he had passed the pitch-burners' camp unwittingly in his flight, that he would soon come out on the Miadziol Lake, where the forest was thinner. From there it was not far to Wereczata, where the tenant was one Lojko, a yeoman farmer. Anyhow it didn't matter where, if only he could get out of the forest and among people.

But the trees grew no thinner, and his horse began to stumble and grow weary. Only now did the sheriff, in some consternation, perceive that he was not on the right road. All around bushes loomed over the track, and the horse's step was muffled, as if on moss. Continually making the sign of the cross and looking around him, he halted the nag and got down Irom the saddle. And indeed he found himself among the trees of some unknown little valley, which, into the bargain, led steeply downhill. It was very dark. To remount would be dangerous, for let there be any obstacle in the path, and not only would the horse break his leg, but his master's neck also would be endangered. He began to walk before his horse, pushing aside the branches. It became completely dark. evidently the trees overhead were thicker. He stood still and listened. All was silent, not a leaf stirred, not a branch creaked. All around was darkness, only from the wide. stretches of forest on every side came sudden quiet claps, then a sort of hissing, and finally a long drawn out sigh. Koszczyc recognized the song of a nightingale in the leafy depths.

The sheriff tried to go forward, but as soon as he moved he almost fell, and at the same time something thundered horribly. Evidently he had touched a rock which had come loose and fallen into a ravine beneath his feet.

"God has protected me," he thought, scrambling upwards again.

He was soaked with sweat. His greatcoat, belt and pantaloons were so wet they could have been wrung out. The frightened choir of nightingales broke off singing suddenly and were silent. Again there was silence, a silence of the tomb. The sheriff began to grope for his horse, but couldn't find him. That animal had evidently run away. The sheriff was alone in the forest.

While he thus stood, not knowing what to do, he recalled what he had seen and lived through a while ago. He shivered and crossed himself, looking fearfully around him, to see if the horrors were again coming out of the surrounding darkness to stare him in the face.

"Mother of God, save me!" he muttered almost aloud.

Then the nightingales began to jug again. One gave the melody to another, who caught it up in a voice like whistles and little drums. The sheriff listened, and his heart stopped beating at the thought that perhaps they were not nightingales. Then plain fright took hold of him. Taking no notice of anything, he threw himself at the bushes and began to force his way through them. The branches tore his clothing, his cap fell off, his ammunition belt broke, but the sheriff only pressed forward, faster, faster.

At last it grew lighter, the trees and bushes thinned out. A long track free from trees showed among the tops of the pines a belt of twinkling stars. A road at last! Reeling, he began to follow it. How long he walked, no one knows. Already the sky paled and the stars began to wink and go out. Faintly, as if seen through ground-glass, single trees began to show, then their faint outlines split up into trunks, branches and leaves. Day was dawning. But still the unbearable song of the nightingales followed the traveller. And now another sound joined this song: a distant chorus of frogs.

Where there are frogs, there is water. He therefore turned his steps in the direction of their croaking. Maybe he would come out on Rudakowa? Maybe it would be the pond near Bojary? Maybe even on Justynowo?

Round a corner the forest ended as suddenly as if cut off with a knife, and, lo and behold! the sheriff stood on a rise just above the village of Miadziol. The lake lay cherry-coloured in the dawn light, which covered the copper cupola of the church in a cloud of misty blood. Here and there on the lower meadows wandered wisps of mist. The sheriff gave a sigh of relief.

"Soon they will ring Matins, and this evil spell will pass," he reflected.

But suddenly a causeless anxiety assailed him.

What was happening at home? He began to walk faster. He had reached the monastery buildings when he saw that from the farm two men were moving away slily, on all fours. They were obviously making for the woods. "Scoundrels! They must be thieves. I'll teach them." Rounding the wall of the buildings he came across their path.

"And where may you be going?"

He recognized them as two pantry-boys from the manor. But before he had time to ask them what they were doing, they let out a great shout and took to their heels in. different directions. One disappeared in the bushes to the left, the other to the right towards the mound of Calvary. They vanished in a cloud of dust.

"What the devil?" thought the sheriff.

He took a look at the village, which still slept in the silence and rosy mists of the dawn, in the light thrown through the ash trees glowing in the rising sun. With astonishment he saw that everywhere bent figures of men and women were running from their houses and hiding in the woods. "Something must have happened! A foray? Robbers?" He ran as fast as his legs would take him. The "palace" lay on the very edge of the village, near the cloisters, in a dip in the ground. He ran along the track leading to the manor farm. Usually at this hour the working day had begun in and about the stables, byres and outhouses. But to-day it was as if everything was dead. There was no one in the yard, no one round the well. Only by the calf-pens a horse, his own horse, with a twisted saddle still on its back, was quietly grazing the sparse grass.

"Maybe they think I've been killed in some ravine, and have gone out into the forest to seek my body?" speculated the sheriff.

Though this idea seemed feasible enough, the behaviour of the lads he had met certainly did not suggest it. Surely they would have been glad to see their master alive and well? But maybe they thought they were seeing a ghost! Why did they not go searching on horseback? Why, if they were looking for him, did they creep stealthily among the huts?

Something must certainly have happened. But what? Perhaps, perhaps, the child! He rejected, tried to dismiss this unthinkable conjecture, which nevertheless obstinately kept coming to mind. He went his way to the "palace." Everywhere was empty and silent. He shouted several times, summoning the servants, but only echo answered him from the orchard. The front doors were wide open, the porch dark, the floor creaked beneath his tread. He called again-no one appeared. In a few bounds he reached the child's room on the first floor. Silence. The cradle stood in the middle of the room with its curtains drawn. The gold crown shone brightly above the graceful arch of the canopy. Cautiously he drew aside the curtains and breathed a sigh of relief-the child was not there.

"Jasinska! Jasinska!" he summoned the nurse. There was no reply. He cast a glance round the room: the nurse's bed stood against the wall, with no nurse in it, the coverlet was thrown aside, the sheets crumpled, as if she had just got up. Evidently the child was with its mother, to whom it was often taken in the morning. At this moment the sheriff's gaze fell on a little bundle lying at the bottom of the bed, a little bundle tied with crossed ribbons. The child! Oh Jesus! He seized it in his arms, looked closely. Horror! Already cold and stiff.

At that moment, from the court-yard, through the window, whence shone a golden sunbeam in which danced silver motes of dust, came the confused sound of voices. Still holding the child in his arms the sheriff ran downstairs. He saw a strange procession; from the lake six men, apparently fisher' men, were cautiously carrying a human form.

"Wasyl!" came a whisper from one of them. "Wasyl!

Mind you don't fall, she'll be hurt; she's scarcely alive as it is." The sheriff roared:

"What is it? Who are you?"

The fishermen halted. Suddenly they threw down the body they had been carrying, and vanished into the bushes like a flock of frightened sparrows.

"Stop! Stop! Wait a moment all of you, or I'll flay you! I'll skin you alive!" cried the sheriff, running. They took no notice. The sheriff returned to the figure dropped by the fugitives. He recognized it at once. Jasinska lay before him! Streams of water flowed slowly from the skirt clinging to her legs, making little black pools on the sand. The sun shining through the leaves overhead covered her motionless form with twinkling patches of shadow. Somewhere in the upper branches of the ash tree a wandering jay whistled shrilly, but broke off in the middle of a phrase. In the sunshine the succulent silence of a hot summer's day spread over the garden. The bees hummed loudly. With great care the sheriff laid the bundle with the child on the ground. Slowly he approached the prostrate woman. Her eyes were closed- she groaned, water pouring from her lips.

"The carrion lives!" he grunted. Taken by a sudden thought he caught the unfortunate creature under the armpits and dragged her to the "palace." Jasinska was well-fed and heavy.

He aided himself up the steps with his knee, then dragged the body across the porch, and through the hall hung with mirrows and tapestries, resting every few minutes, till he reached a closet in the passage, a small room in which the servants kept their pails and brushes. He thrust the unconscious woman in, closed and bolted the door, tried it to see that it held, and quickly went back to the garden, to the child.

Hugging it, and uttering endearments, he carried it to its room, laid it in its cradle and drew the curtains. For a moment he considered what to do next. He drew his hand across his eyes and went to. his wife's room.

In her bedroom he met the first living creatures in the manor: Rogozinska and a maid. They were covering his wife with wet towels. She lay like one dead on the bed, with fixed gaze and dropped jaw. The maid heard footsteps, looked up, and saw the sheriff. She screamed shrilly. Rogoziliska turned round, dropped the towels and approached the sheriff:

"God has sent misfortune," she began. "Your Honour cannot overcome God, nor change His decrees, and violence will not help matters."

"Be silent! Answer my questions! What happened? Who killed the child?"

Rogozinska shrugged her shoulders.

"No one killed it. Jasinska came crying this morning that she had suffocated the child in her sleep. She had overslept. The child had been crying, so she took it into her bed- God."

"Silence! Silence, woman! Don't give me polemics about God, for He will not defend you, if I do anything to you."

"I am not afraid!"

"Ah! Don't try my patience! Answer! Then what happened?"

"Jasinska ran to the lake, but I didn't see what happened next, for my lady fell, and lies. . . ." "

Where is everyone?"

"They ran away." "Where to?" "I don't know."

The sheriff shrugged and turned.

"I'll soon find them," he exclaimed, and then, turning in the. doorway and pointing to his wife, asked, "Is she alive?" "She is alive."

"Then stay here and look after her. Sit still, and don't move from this room, even if the sky falls, or I'll break your neck like Jasinska's!"

He went away. In the armoury he found a loaded piece, shouldered a horn full of powder, and went to the farm. There he began to search the stables and houses. However, he could find no one. While he was still in a room he heard voices outside. Cautiously he looked through the window. Two unknown peasants had driven up to the byre in a cart. and. astonished, were wandering about looking for someone, He came upon them unawares. The peasants, seeing the levelled gun, groaned and fell on their knees.

"Sir! Spare our lives!"

"Get up and go in front of me!" ordered the sheriff.

He drove them to the stables and pointed to some spades, which they obediently took up, shaking with fright. He lgd them to the porch of the palace, where some rosebushes grew by the drive, and showed them the spot, marking the earth with his boot.


"Sir! Have mercy, we have done nothing! Have mercy!" they groaned.

"Dig! If you don't. . . ." He showed his gun.

Hastily they began to dig a narrow but quite deep hole. Then he ordered them to stop work, lay aside the shovels, and go with him to the closet in which he had shut Jasinska. At his command they took up the woman and carried her outside. She made no resistance, for she was still only half-conscious. With a gesture the sheriff pointed to the newly-dug hole.

"Sir, she's still alive!" exclaimed one peasant. "Put her in and fill up the hole!" roared Koszczyc.

The peasant crossed himself three times.

"Never! It's a sin!"

"Fill it up, if you value your life!" shouted Koszczyc.

They put her in, and filled up the hole so that only her head was above ground.

"And now," said the sheriff, "take to your heels and get away as quick as you can run. If either of you breathes a word of this, even to his own wife, I'll find him, if he should hide in Hell, and tear him to pieces. You know me."

The peasants didn't wait to be told twice. -In a moment there was no trace of them. When they had gone the sheriff dragged a bench from the porch on to the drive and sat down. It was already mid-day, a warm, peaceful June day. Behind the trees the lake sparkled golden. The world was beautiful.

The sheriff wiped his sweaty brow with a foulard handkerchief, laid his piece on his knees-and waited.

What more is there to tell? The monks, having been told by the villagers what had occurred, tried three times during the afternoon to rescue the unfortunate Jasinska. Three times the sheriff drove them away with shots. By evening, hearing the awful news, peasants had collected from even the most distant villages. There were also many townsmen from Old and New Miadziol, but nobody dared to enter the garden. Horsemen were sent to Postawy for Skirmunt and to Kobyinik for Oskierka, with pleas tor their intervention. Only they could do something with the sheriff. But Skirmunt could not be found, and Oskierka had left for Wilno three days earlier. Such was the fear of the sheriff that the whole night was spent in the same awful state. It was said that when some of the boldest tried to get to Jasinska, crawling through the bushes, they were attacked by some enormous dogs which nobody had ever seen before.

At daybreak the monks renewed their efforts. In a great procession, the prior, carrying the Holy Sacraments, and accompanied by the whole monastery, came to the palace. But the sheriff was no longer on the palace steps, and though Jasinska's head still stuck up beneath the porch, their efforts were vain. Jasinska was dead. She had suffocated.

The next day the sheriff was no longer in Miadziol. Skirmunt, who had arrived late, had managed to collect the servants, but only so that they might harness the horses in the carriages and pack up all the sheriff's belongings. The sheriff went away, taking with him his still unconscious wife. He sealed the palace with his signet, and threw the key of the front door into the lake. He went away, and that was the last anyone saw of him. Skirmunt took over management.

The lake murmured and played in the reeds, worried the stones on the shore, washed the roots of the trees, and spread its dark-grey body far and wide, from horizon to horizon. The days passed. lazily. The two Miadziols, bent over the water, stared at each other as if in astonishment. In the monastery every Friday they held Mass for the soul of Wladyslaw August. He had attained a crown-but a heavenly one.

Ten years after these happenings, which so terrified the district that to this very day they still sing songs of it at the fairs, to the new Miadziol bailiff (Skirmunt was already dead) came a terrified gardener with the news that the seals on the palace doors were broken, and all the doors wide open.

The bailiff flew to see. Indeed thus it was. The bailiff, taking the gardener with him, entered the palace, partly out of curiosity, partly from a sense of duty, as if to see if thieves had stolen much. But strange to relate, every place was empty and silent, no sign of disorder was to be seen. At last, on the first floor in a vaulted room on the lake side, where a great cradle stood in the middle of the floor, by the window sat an unknown, ragged old man, staring at the lake.

"Now I've got you, my lad!" began the bailiff, but broke off short, for the old man took in the bailiff from head to foot in a glance, and .turned back to the window. The bailiff was ready to call people to take the old man, when the gardener with a crash threw himself on his knees.

"Your Honour the Sheriff!" he babbled. "Master!"

In fact the old man was Sheriff Koszczyc. In what a changed form he had returned! He had gone away as a man in his full strength and health; now he was a bent old man, grey haired, dirty, and unkempt, dressed in rags obviously begged from strangers. When recognized, he did not attempt to hide his identity, but forbade his return to be noised about, and ordered the prior of the monastery to be summoned quickly. He would not even eat anything. When the prior came, he shut himself up with -the sheriff for a long time, after which the sheriff summoned the bailiff again, inquired as to the condition of the estates, and asked after his daughters. The money from his income he ordered to be divided into three parts; one to be given to Jasinska's orphan, one to he left to his three daughters, and the third to be. given to the prior for the use of the monastery. He yet wanted to dictate a will, but was unable to speak, and lost consciousness. He was laid on the bed, the same in which Jasinska slept her last, beside the child's cradle. The dying man stared constantly at til's cradle, and habbled something which no one could understand, The bailiff and the monks watched with him in turn.

News of the sheriff's return spread through the villages like lightning, causing fear and confusion. Crowds collected and surrounded the house. The prior appeared before the palace and ordered quiet, so the crowds spread out among the trees and waited-it was not clear what for-as if they felt that something must happen.

Night fell beautiful, sweet, full of fragrance, quiet. The moon came up from behind the Uzia and lit up the lake and its waves.' A silvery gloom spread over the quiet earth, and covered the stars with misty, quivering shadows. The people crowding the park sat without a word, shoulder to shoulder, not daring to breathe.

When the climbing moon reached the tops of the trees, the bushes shortened their shadows, glowing with faint radiance, and silver handfuls of star-dust scattered the grass, the prior came out on to the palace porch and said loudly:

"He has died in the Lord."

"Grant him eternal peace, oh Lord!" came from the crowd, and women began to sob.

Three days later the funeral was held, not without pomp. The coffin was followed by a crowd of townsmen from Kobyinik, from both Miadziols, even from Postawy, and by many, many peasants. There were no gentry, no Oskierkas, Wolodkowiczs, Kubickis, Krajewskis, or Halkos. It was the year 1794, and in the Polish and Lithuanian world things were happening of more importance than the funeral of the last Koszczyc. Thus the sheriff was buried in the evening, in a vault under the church. The usual prayers were held, then the father's coffin was placed beside that of his son, and the vault blocked up with stone.

In the night there came from the forest one of the cruel, sudden Naroczan storms. The hiss of rain and hail, the voice of the lake, and the crash of trees, the grinding of torn and breaking branches, and the thunderclaps woke the population. But they only closed the shutters tighter, no one even went out with a bell from Loretto to conjure the storm, for the wind stole one's breath, and the rain and hail cut like knives.

At dawn the gatekeeper ran to the prior with a report that some old man who had taken shelter against the storm under the church eaves, had run away from the church and come to the gatehouse, swearing that all night, from the vaults under the church, had risen groans and shrieks, which could be heard in spite of the storm. The gatekeeper had not wanted to wake the prior during the night, not thinking the old man's tale was important, but now-he wished to tell of it. The prior, much worried, crossed himself, took two monks as witnesses and four lay brothers to help, and went down into the vaults. However, they found nothing suspicious there. The coffins lay in their places.

"We shall have to open the coffin," whispered Father Aloysius in the prior's ear. "One can never be sure."

The prior agreed. The lid was removed. Now-so say the tales-"a horrifying sight disclosed itself to those present. The dead man lay on his face, with a twisted body. The hands torn by teethmarks and livid face bore witness that he had wakened in the coffin, and, unable to get out, had died- of suffocation."

That was the end of the Koszczyc affair.