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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 XI: The First Steps

Metadata

Uzla, Vistula, Modlin, Bug-Narew, Bug, Brzesc, Jasiolda, Pina, Polesie, Lithuania, Oginski canal, Niemen, Kracow, Zwierzyniecka Street, Poland, Katowice, Lwow, Vistula Street, St Ann's Street, Czernichow, Lisko, Narocz, Augustow Canal, Wilna

Synopsis

Lisiewicz reveals he is 36 (p121). The book was completed in 1939 (see author's forward) and probably written over a number of years making his date of birth around 1900-1903.

The author relates, in a dry ironic tone his dreams of owning a motor boat - and his failed attempts to buy and restore one; how he is swindled into over-paying for a wreck that he later sold, having never got it to run.

Further reading

Some links to maps of river systems:

Polesie

Vistual river map

Nieman (now Neman) river map

Dnieper river map

Daugava river map

Chapter XI: The Text

IT is generally known that breakfast rouses the rapacious instincts lying dormant in the unconscious. The strength of these instincts lies not only in direct proportion to the thickness of the skin on the coffee and the softness of the boiled eggs, but is equally dependent on other matters, extremely important, which regulate the mood and the circulation of the blood for the whole day, and which are usually modestly concealed by everyone.

The day should b& begun by them. Here in the Uzia, around this shrine of secret rites grow fir trees and gorse bushes, among which winds a crooked path. In the early morning dew lies on it, whose refreshing damp chill penetrates the thin soles of one's slippers. Cheerful slanting sunbeams shine through cracks in the planks, lighting up the thick cobwebs with a rainbow effect. Crowds of golden flies hum quietly, and a long-legged spider flees in alarm from the sunny spots into the shadows under the rafters.

Forest meditation! How chill and unkind is the city.

Every morning the hostel canoes scattered on the lake, dived into the reeds and disappeared till lunch time. About mid-day sailing boats appeared, for the south wind would then be blowing. The boats circled about the jetty, from which the bathers shouted their expert remarks. This was the time when the only topic of conversation was the superiority of light boats over heavy, fives and tens over fifteens, of keels, regattas, sailoring habits, the Morse alphabet, S.O.S.'s and flag signals. In the evening the events of the sailors' day were discussed at every table, and there was never any lack of topics. How often the sight of a sailing-boat overturned by some clumsy manoeuvre filled one's heart with a shiver of hidden delight: a fool, Great Scott!

However, before I adapted my knowledge of deep-sea sailing to the fresh waters, before I learnt to appreciate the canoe -the best of all the world's boats-1 paid a heavy toll for my inexperience.

It was soon after the red letter day when I ceased to have any responsibilities. I was 36, in good health, and could do just exactly as I liked. My wife and I were just debating the question as to what we would like best to do,' when we had a visit from our cousin. Immediately on coming in, he announced that he knew we wanted to spend a pleasant holiday, so he had a wonderful surprise for us, a miracle.

"Just think," he said, "a motor-boat! I don't deny the boat needs an overhaul, but what an engine! A jewel of fine metals. The price? Ridiculously low. Five hundred zlotys!l But you must make up yodr minds right away, because there are other people after it too."

"Are you selling it?" I asked. "No! I'm only a middleman, but believe me. . . ."

I believed him. I would have believed Baron Munchausen himself, I was so taken with the idea. In my mind there was a plan forming, a plan with a capital "P." It was like the clear sightedness of a great leader: by the Vistula to Modlin, then the Bug-Narew and Bug up to Brzesc, and on by the Jasiolda and Pina. Before my eyes passed images of the Polesie: green banks, smooth islets of water weeds, undulating with the water at the approach of the boat, corridors of reeds in the canals, night bivouacs on strips of sand, black clouds of wild ducK at dawn, huge moustached fish, swamps, virgin forests, moors, everything in a haze of quivering air, warmed by the June and July sun, baked till it glowed, wide untrammelled freedom. Then I remembered Lithuania and the pale lakes in their green circles of tall pine trees and reeds. So should we go further up the Oginski canal to the Niemen?

I looked at my wife, and she at me. Without a word we began to put on our coats.

"What's the matter? Where are you going?" asked our cousin.

"To see the boat!" I shouted.

The boat was lying in the yard of a certain garage where our cousin, having at the moment no other occupation, was officiating. He was a lawyer by profession, which explains a good deal. The boat had beautiful lines, but otherwise didn't appear particularly attractive; her bottom-boards were thin and full of holes. But the engine!

It was an Isotta Franschini, only single-cylindered, it's true, with a nominal power of 5 h.p., which was quite sufficient for my aims. The pale-blue enamelled cover of the driving wheel shone beautifully. The motor stood clamped to a large tub full of water, with its propeller, of course, in the water. In this tub it was to show us what it could do. This was the only way to run it, as the boat was damaged. The most' important thing in a motor boat is the motor, and this one certainly looked splendid. Besides, it was not a bit complicated, and the upkeep had been all that one could wish : every part. was well-greased, and the whole thing shone with steel and copper.

"Well!" shouted our cousin enthusiastically, and immediately ordered the motor to be started up. The mechanic did this carelessly, with one movement of his hand. Immediately the characteristic stuttering rang out. The motor ran evenly, without halts, without spitting. My enthusiasm, though certainly equal to that of my cousin, was still under the control of sober reason. Trying to maintain a matter-offact voice, I asked if the engine had been inspected by an expert?

"Of course!" replied my cousin. "By Krecicki!" This was a name quite well known to me. Krecicki was the infallible oracle, in the Krakow district, on all sorts of motors, from railway engines down to things like that which lay before me at that moment.

"What did Krecicki say?" I inquired.

"That it's first-class."

"Who wants to sell the boat?" I asked sternly, struggling with my delight.

At once they told me that the seller was a certain engineer, well-known and respected, who was about to move into the country, and could no longer keep the boat. The only thing that scared me was two enormous holes in the bottom of the boat, made-as I was informed-during transport.

"Just a small repair job, believe me!" my cousin assured me, carelessly waving his hand.

I not only believed, but was anxious to believe.

"Well, make up your mind quickly! Time flies," he insisted.

I made up my mind.

There was still one small formality, that is the money. I had not got those immediately necessary 300 ziotys, but I knew where I could get them. So I went home, and began a diplomatic conversation with my mother-in-law. Not yet letting out the root of the matter, I spread before her a rose coloured image of Polesie and the Lithuanian lakes. In the pauses my wife spoke of the magic of the Vistula. Listening to all this, my mother-in-law watched us distrustfully. She scented some trick.

"Why don't you go there, if it's so wonderful?" she asked at last.

This was just what I wanted, so I came to the point. I told of our unheard-of bargain, and set out our plan of a "watery" holiday from two points of view: first that of economy, secondly that of tourist-value. My wife helped in the attack by giving shrieks full of war-like enthusiasm. My mother-in-law gave in. We got the five hundred ziotys as a nominal loan. I quickly ran to my cousin and paid in the money.

"It's high time," said he, counting the notes; "Tony has been hanging on to the telephone and worrying me for an answer for the last half-hour, and has already offered 350 zlotys."

I didn't ask who Tony was: the boat was mine! My wife and I rejoiced exceedingly, and, without delay, betook ourselves to the further 'duties which our new position as ship-owners, or owners of a floating unit, laid upon us. First of all the hull went its way to a specialist in the repair and painting of such things. In his dry dock, on Zwierzyniecka Street, besides our boat, there were a dresser and an enormous couch, the first under repair and the other under construction. The motor I sent back to the arch-master Krecicki, quite unnecessarily, as they said, but just in case. That same day a sharp conjugal quarrel broke out at home about a name for the boat. About mid-night, overcome by sleep and extra-special hopes for the future, we agreed on the lovely name "Nautilus."

After a short deliberation we fixed our departure for "a fortnight to-day." The circle of friends, who were let into the secret that we were soon to go through Polesie to Lithuania, regarded ifs with amazement and envy. Every afternoon a pilgrimage was made to the shipbuilder's, alias carpenters, where they touched with reverence the still naked ribs of the boat and asked, "What colour?" "Pale blue, of course." The pale blue had to be matched with the enamel of the driving wheel cover, but below the water-line we decided to keep to the traditional black. A fine white inscription, "Nautilus," was to be painted on either side of the bow; in time we hoped to change this to brass lettering.

A few days later, after much deep thought and study of a handbook, "The Construction of Motor Yachts," I gave orders to strengthen her bottom with keel rabbets, and the floorboards with a close oak grating, and for a folding table to be constructed in the bows so that I could write while travelling. I had got a commission, for letters on the voyage, from two magazines, which were to cover the cost of the purchase and overhaul of the boat and engine. In another workshop, too, they were making me a very practical sort of deck chair-bed. I had also ordered a set of cushions covered in pale blue hessian, to match the paint, and three light, handy mattresses.

Work went on apace. I went every day to Krecicki's, where I looked tenderly at the engine dismantled into tiny pieces. On the advice of that omniscient specialist, I ordered them, again just in case, to change all the rings of the one and only piston, and later to change the same (one. and only) piston and rebore the one and only cylinder. Not waiting for the end of this job, I went to Lwow, where I bought a tent, various thermos-flasks, warm and light clothing, and an ingenious electric torch, long-lasting, damp-resisting, and with change-able candle power. I bargained for a great chest with weekend equipment (what a bargain! only 90 zlotys! '), but in the end, though with regret, did not buy it. However, I ordered suitable tinned goods trorn a certain factory to be sent C.O.D. to the address of a friend. I didn't want to irritate my mother-in-law. At last, tired and full of tips gladiv given me by various lovers of aquatic sports, I returned to Krakow.

Once back, I betook myself to other matters: I refurbished my fishing tackle, bought new rods, hooks of all sizes, lines and spinners. I got in a stock of scores of important details such as lead, floats, and nets. The short list of requirements for the undertaking of our journey, in spite of our intensive shopping, still totalled about 40 items.

Meanwhile the boat was ready. With pride we inspected the splendid work of the owner of the Zwierzyniecka Street shipyard. The lovely pale-blue enamel of the gunwales reflected our faces, full of admiration and impatience. The boat was-solemnly brought to our house and set on blocks in the garage.

The time for starting was very near, but there was still something wrong with the engine. After inspection and remounting it had obviously conked out. It wouldn't even run in the tub.

"Magneto," remarked Krecicki one day.

I turned pale. The cylinder (one and only) had been rebored, a new (one and only) piston imported all the way from Germany; could there be something wrong with the (one and only) magneto? That was a blow! However, I bore it bravely, in .silence, alone, putting off rny wife with halftruths. Nevertheless, she, gifted with an unusual amount of womanly intuition, began to be worried.

"Suppose the engine won't work at all?" she asked once, during the course of one of our many, though not pleasant, conversations. I laughed derisively, and went to Krecicki's. The magneto was giving beautiful sparks, but the motor showed no reaction. It was as silent as the grave.

Krecicki was silent too.

"Well, what?" I asked the master with due respect.

"It's a right-hand magneto. This engine needs a left-hand one," came the answer to the motor-Pythic oracle.

My knees shook. A new magneto? That's as much as the whole engine, with Krecicki and the cost of the remount thrown in, is worth! But an even worse blow was to come. When I began to comb Krakow for such a left-hand magneto, my search ended in complete failure. In vain I went round all the stores of used and new engine parts, in vain I offered huge sums to various chauffeur acquaintances, in vain different representatives of various firms inquired by telephone in all their head offices and branches. Not only in Krakow, but in all Poland there was no such magneto. Quite by chance I found a certain man near Katowice-but that's a long story.

Suffice it to say that at last the, desired left-hand magneto arrived by air-mail in Krakow. They fitted it. On our engine sticking out at one side was a small, mysterious lever, which moved easily to right and left. Intrigued, I asked Krecicki what it was there for?

"Nothing important," answered the master rather contemptuougly.

Later, many years later, I discovered by accident that the lever was to enable any magneto to be used, right or left hand.

But meanwhile the day fixed for the start of our journey was long past. Even the new date decided upon after a stormy family council had passed. Already not only my mother-inlaw and my wife, but those friends who were in the secret too, began to ask forcibly: what about this journey? Luckily to my rescue came the water-my element-this time the Vistula. Dark clouds came from the west and began to pour with rain. Once it had begun, it rained without a break for a fortnight. The river overflowed its banks, and from all sides came alarming news of floods, communication between Krakow and Lwow was cut, whole districts were inundated, people drowned like flies. This was a short period in which my wife, like her mother, blessed those engine defects. However. I, knowing only too well that the water would go down again, didn't let the grass grow under my feet. With an energy worthy of Napoleon I took advantage of every hour,. every minute, every second of the day. Rolling up my sleeves, I personally assisted in reassembling the engine, collecting the parts, fixing and screwing down, till it spluttered and started. In the tub, of course. Anyway it ran without stopping for three hours.

I returned home like a conquering hero. Now I waited impatiently for the water to recede. Downstairs, dusted daily, in the garage, waited the boat, glistening like a mirror. Only one thing surprised me greatly: the son of our caretaker, a keen canoeist, who had a small workshop for canoes near our garage. Canoes were things which we, that is, my wife and I, regarded with great contempt. Nevertheless, I noticed that the canoeist looked at our beautiful boat with curiosity, but without any enthusiasm. He was not at all jealous. This annoyed and worried me.

Sometimes, going down to the garage, I tried to open the conversation. For instance, passing him, I asked, as if unintentionally :

"How do you like our boat?"

"Very nice," he answered politely, not stopping his work nor even glancing in the direction of the blue "Nautilus."

One thing more: I often went with my wife along Vistula Street. There in the large window of a shop which has gone to-day, on the corner of St. Ann's Street, stood a folding canoe in full sail. It had everything, main sail, jib sail, rigging, just like a small yacht. We inspected this toy with much pleasure, but not without a feeling of superiority. Thus the owner of a Hispano-Suiza would look at a well-kept little Fiat.

"It's not very practical," I would usually remark.

"Impractical and tiresome," my wife would add.

And we walked on. Usually shopping, for we had not yet reached the end of our purchases. The greater part of those indispensable 40 items-written out fair on a sheet of paper- had not yet been crossed out, though the duration of our expedition had been cut from three and a half months to six weeks. I consoled my wife by saying that the delay was even a good thing, as later in the year there would be tewer mosquitoes in Polesie.

"You see, mosquitoes!" shrieked my wife, and wrote at the bottom of the list "remedy for mosquitoes." The opinions of the specialists on the question of the malaria-carrying anopheles were much divided. There were two specialists, one a barrister, the other director of a distillery. We finally decided that it would be best to equip ourselves with camphorated oil mixed with a certain specific. The receipt was given us by a professor of the University, a famous historian.

Gradually the skies cleared. The clouds did not come so thickly, and it was brighter. At last the July sun began to shine fiercely. Our equipment was complete. At the last moment I had added, with great pride, an ingenious spirit stove on which one could cook even while on the water.

The day of the long-awaited trials arrived. It was three days before the date definitely settled for starting. The test was to be held on the Vistula, in the early morning. On the afternoon of the same day I had decided on a trial lading and a speed test on a 20 kilometre course from Krakow to Czernichow.

On the day before I had engaged men to take the boat down to the water and had undertaken a thorough search for a certain person, who had often gone out sailing with the previous owner, and knew my boat and engine perfectly. As a matter of fact I had been seeking him for some time, but I always met with some unexpected difficulties. At length my brother-in-law's chauffeur, whom I had sent to reconnoitre, rang me up in the evening to say that the gentleman would be at the landing stage at seven the next morning. I informed Krecicki, and left orders that I was to be called at six a.m.

Next morning at a quarter to seven I was already standing on the landing stage. I stood there till nine, when they brought the boat, and about ten o'clock there appeared two "persons" looking like the famous heroes of the Lwow song, who informed me that it was they who knew the boat and her previous owner. Oh, well! I accepted the information. We began to fix the engine to the boat. I only now noticed that the sternboards were pretty weak, and would probably not bear the vibrations of the engine.

"That's nothing," remarked the taller onlooker, "it wouldn't take a second to strengthen-the boat's first-class-engine's a jewel-goes like hell."

They turned the starter. It coughed. A little .puff of smoke appeared. Then they turned it again. It coughed a second time, and another puff of smoke appeared. Then they turned it in vain for an hour.

"There's something wrong here," rightly observed one of Krecicki's mechanics.

"Obviously," added the other professionally.

"The magneto," whispered the taller onlooker.

"The cylinder," hissed the other.

Meanwhile Krecicki stood on the high bank with his arms folded a la Napoleon.

"The plug," he remarked shortly.

"Plug be d-. A minute, to change it," said one of the onlookers.

They went off for a new plug. They changed the plug. It was one o'clock when they turned the flywheel. Something coughed and a feeble wisp of smoke appeared.

"It'll go!" said Krecicki.

"It's going!" shouted a mechanic.

"Like hell," added the more enterprising of the engineer's friends.

But it didn't go. There was Welter in the plug. On a closer inspection it appeared that near the thread of the plug was a scarcely visible crack right through to the water.

Somehow Krecicki suddenly vanished, the mechanics vanished, the two onlookers disappeared. On the scene of the tragedy only the silent and indifferent boat carriers remained, who now heaved on the boat and carried it back to the garage.

The engine, after a very stormy day, went from Krecicki's to another specialist in combustion engines. That expert, matador No. 2, manufactured, after much negotiation, another cylinder, but that did not help greatly. I did not assist personally at the next trial. I am very impulsive, and once already paid 10 (as the equivalent of five .days' arrest) for damage to the person of a certain fattish man. Anyway that trial did not show anything very new. The engine ran well, and the boat floated splendidly, but each on its own. Together they somehow didn't hit it off. Obviously their different natures kept them apart. Then I decided to sell boat and engine, give up the proud position of shipowner and buy that folding canoe in Vistula Street.

Alas! It was no longer in the window. I inquired in the shop. It was sold. There were no such canoes made in Poland then, a new one could at best arrive in a few weeks, and the summer was nearly over.

I asked about the purchaser, was he from Krakow?

"No! From Lisko, he is going to Narocz, part of the way by water," came the answer.

Which way?"

"Along the Vistula, Narew and up the Augustow Canal. He's in Wilna already. He wrote me a post-card," explained the courteous shopkeeper.

And I was still in Krakow.

"Nautilus" lay a long time in the garage. Some years later someone bought her for 30s., but quickly sold her for 17s. 6d. To-day she is a sailing boat on the Vistula. The engine is still at matador No. 2's. Krecicki, I somehow haven't met since the time of the remount, although I have several times visited his workshop, even at unusual times. I was also anxious to visit the engineer, former owner of the boat. It turned out that he was only a mechanic who would have liked to be an engineer. unfortunately I did not succeed in making personal contact with him, as this was dependent on other people, chiefly on a certain, most amiable examining magistrate.

Thus ended the affair of the motor boat, which was to carry us to Narocz.

Evidently the time was not yet ripe.