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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 XIII: The Death of Aza


Pale Lake, Lithuania


Aza, the bitch hound introduced in chapter X attempts to save her puppies who have eaten a poisonous lizard - but to no avail. She fades away and dies, passing on to another place where the spirits of her ancestors roam. This particularly well phrased dark chapter counterpoints the more upbeat sections of the book. The chapter could be read as a fable or allegory on the impending life-death struggle that Lisiewicz anticipates for his homeland.

Further reading

This is a rhetorical chapter not founded on history. No further reading.

Chapter XIII: The Text

THERE was silence on the Pale Lake. The fishermen had left long ago. They had spread their nets on the stakes and dragged their black, potbellied boats up the beach. Two gulls still wailed in the sky, and the fish eagle, perched for ages on the top of a withered pine, whistled to assure his not far distant brood that he was still on watch.

The pike which had, till now, been lying on the bottom beside a sunken log, himself looking like a stone, woke from his sleep, and perceived before him through the grey water the vague spindle-shapes of fish. One stroke of his tail and the slender body, in an arc like that of a projectile, broke the surface of the water. A loud splash echoed over the lake. Then only the spreading rings caressed the reeds, which, wakened from their evening dreaming, quivered.

There sometimes come to the Lithuanian lands, just before yellow autumn sets in, days so full of beauty and so rich in all the produce of summer that they seem too good to be true. Then one can catch a glimpse of the warm blessed peace of the Garden of the Hesperides. When the sun's arc declines toward its western end, in the evening glory hang the clear and near features of the Almighty, like a father's face bent over his child's cradle. The heavens and waters are smooth and the old earth is still. Lost in admiration of their own splendour the elements rest in prayerful silence. At last the sun sinks behind the hills, and the quick-footed dusk steals over waters and woods, but in it is no sleep, nor the end of pleasure. The yellow moon rises and spreads new attraction over the silver vault of heaven. After the religious festival of the day comes the dancing holiday of the night.

After just such a day, Aza, the mother-brach, was lying on the sand of a small beach among black pines, just on the edge of the green swamp. In the sand, still warm from the heat of the day, she had dug a shallow hole, her own small miserable grave, in which she rolled herself in a ball, turned her gaze on the water, watching the lake, and waited for death. She was no longer the proud hound, mother of fine puppies. In the hollow lay only aching remains, a handful of bones covered with stretched and tattered skin, a bunch of ragged hide eaten away by disease, and an enormous head, too heavy for the weak neck, held to the earth by its own impotence. Her bleary eyes reflected the world mistily and vaguely; only her ears, by scarcely imperceptible twitchings showed that they greedily caught the evening sounds from the forest: the moan of the eagle, the hammering of industrious woodpeckers, the distant cawing of rooks, the rustles and whispers of small birds in the branches and the mysterious murmur of the reeds along the shore. Her sense of smell still served her, bringing her the themes of her life : the scent of decaying pine needles and the refreshing smell of the beach, fish and water life, a smell mixed with the scent of the blooming heath, damp ferns, duckweed and the too soon withered little blue flowers dying from excess of water. There came too, from far away, gusts of bonfire smoke and the scent of bread, certain signs of the nearness of man, mingled with the exciting sweat of a frightened hare and the stench of the fox carefully creeping on its prey through the bushes.

But though she was touched by the prick of such sensuous lures, Aza's legs never stirred, nor did her throat throw out to these calls her habitual answer, a growling bay, the hunting song, telling of a fresh trail and a fruitful chase through the trees. Aza lay motionless. Before her spread the infinity of the waters, over her the forest of pillared trunks, crowned by the arches of the green needles, behind her lived-out life, and with her-no one. She was deserted in her loneli-ness, the loneliness of a dying dog.

Not so long ago she had still led her pups into the forest to hunt, to show them the wolf's tracks, the wild cat's lair and the black pine thicket, haunt of the stag: where the bark of the trees bore the marks of the roedeer's hair, where the boar rooted for sweet titbits in the underbrush, and where the well-fed wild sows lay motionless at intervals on their litter, where, in the air and on the ground, tangled in the green mazes of the hazel thickets, hidden under the stunted bushes of the swamps or lying open on the trarnpled tracks of the watering place, lies all a dog's wisdom. It is a world of real truths, of the deepest feelings, reaching even to painful crampings of the heart, a world of the pride of a happy hunting and the mortal sadness of a missed quarry, the bitterness ot a false trail and the deceit of a lost scent.

In such agitations of the air, scents, smells, and stinks, spread bountifully over every leaf, on every clump of moss, ran the three, panting, with tongues hanging out, time and again giving tongue with a sound more like a howl than a bark, passionate, broken, full of a melody different for each of the three, circling the whole wood.

The pine forest rang with this music when a-fox slipped between the bushes, flashed its red brush and vanished, or when the hunting song rang out on the track of a hare. The three were led by infallible sense of smell and borne on legs with tough and springy muscles.

When, tired out with the chase, they returned home, 'to their place under the steps, Aza would watch with pride her puppies' sleep, an uneasy sleep, with the quivering of black legs, moving as if in haste, and would listen to the quiet groans. These were signs of the hunting dog's dreams, signs of his life, aims, and passions.

Once it happened that the two inexperienced pups, wandering by the .lake, found a lizard sleeping in the sun. Half amazed, half scared, they caught it, as it fled, and began to play with it, throwing it about. At last they bit it, and smeared their muzzles and paws with the lizard's gore. Aza scented the fatal smell from far off. She ran up, whining, spent a long time licking the two puppies, at length rolled on the ground herself, rubbed her muzzle with her paws and wiped her nose in the sand to get rid of the evil smell. She sought out grass in the clearing, and nibbling its sharp blades, forced her stomach to return its contents poisoned by the venomous blood. But in vain.

Soon the puppies began to grow thin and shrivel, becoming daily weaker. On the advice of a wise hunter their master stuck black tar patches on their noses, an old huntsman's remedy, but all in vain. How should a man know of the secret of the venomous blood ot a lizard? Who has revealed to him the cruel charm, the posthumous vengeance of the cold reptile, the spell which works slowly but inexorably? Aza, herself already' sick, watched as they went into the forest, to die, according to the custom of their race, in the loneliness of the woods. She bid each of the puppies farewell, licking their faces interminably. She howled a while when among the pines vanished the half-lifeless body of the beautiful Bey, she howled again two days later when Lotka went away. The call of death led them to a spot where curious human eyes would not-find their carcases, which would be 'kindly received by the forest, living companion and bountiful queen of the hunting races.

At length Aza herself felt that her time had come. At night she bit through the leash by which her careful master had fastened her. Death calls with a voice stronger than that of man, and demands greater obedience than that owed to the hand that feeds and caresses. Dragging the leash, she circled the house, bidding farewell to the happy place. She bade farewell to the water by the shore, where she was wont to bathe when tired and thirsty from the heat, to the shed-recalling many puppyish caresses. She went to the low chamber by the shed where slept Nerus, faithful companion of many care-free doggy delights and forest adventures. Gently she touched the sleeping dog with her hot nose. When he woke and began to wag his tail she turned away and went straight into the forest.

Now she had been looking for many hours on the world, its silence, peace and religious evening contemplation, seizing with the last of her strength a full wave of the life which poured over the wood. Flies and gnats settled thickly on her muzzle. She did not shake them off. She no longer felt pain, and was not at all sad. How can one be sad when the world is full of all goodness like a basin of meat and meal?

The sun is setting, soon it will be night. A chill blows from the forest, but Aza does not feel the cold; she only sees that a bouquet of beautiful colours glides with the dusk and mist over the waves, extinguishing the beams and splendid gleam of the sunset. The wail of the gulls and the hoarse cry of the herons have ceased, and the song of the thrushes Ln the reeds grows silent. Crowds of duck fall with a clamour on to the water. Till dusk they had splattered among the bogs and shallows, which they now leave to the waders, while they swim out on the wide waters of the lake. Here, just above Aza's head, passed the murmur of the even stronger wings of geese. The speed of their heavy bodies split the air in a whistle. Soon from a nearby island came splashes, chatter, the sound of wings beating the water, and then the cackle of the gander, leader of the gaggle.

Suddenly and unexpectedly to Aza's nostrils, now sensitive to the point of pain, came-the sickly odour of a squirrel. That fiery dancer of the woods ran in bounds across the sand, making for the lake to quench her thirst. On the way she happened on the dog., For a moment, throwing up her bushy tail, she surveyed the danger of her former persecutor, then in sudden fear dashed to the nearest tree, scattering the fir cones in her fright, and chattering in comic anger.

If Aza was capable of smiling she would certainly have' smiled then. The half-sleep which overcame her body, and the piercing, painful cold of impotence and fatigue, were full of some great sweetness and forbearance. Far from the excite-ments of the chase she no longer desired triumphs or blood, but wished only to remain forever in her half-conscious ecstasy of bright and dark memories. The squirrel's scent unfolded before her a new picture of puppies scraping the bark of a tall tree, whining in angry excitement, while their mother called in vain to dissuade her children from that mistake, repeated in every generation. Had she not once herself whined fruitlessly beneath a tree, when a small body streaked upward, escaping from her voice to the very top? Had she not torn the bark, as her children did, and jumped in great bounds to the first hanging branches? Aza felt she was shrinking and growing small. She saw in turn quite clearly the dark ceiling of a low building, full of barking, growling disputes and the odour of quick-drawn breaths. Joined with them inextricably was another smell, a mixture of doggy sweat, milk, blood, and sweetness-the smell of her .mother. From the fatal darkness came a new sun, dazzlingly bright, painfully piercing the misty pupils of her eyes. In this light were the sharp outlines of a strange world with a wonderful smell. In this world mingled the recognition of the sharp scent of man, the tangle of human voices, depths full of wisdom and wisdom creating great depths, besides hundreds of hands, some indifferent, some vile and loathsome; soothing hands, hands inciting to revolt, finally those hands soft in caress, hard in punishment, just hands. Before Aza appeared the rich world other own life, flowing by in a hot stream of scents. How various they were, how they changed, always bringing unexpected satisfaction! Violent in the evenings and mornings with the cool dew, lying lazily in the mid-day heat. Uneasily they called on moonlit nights under the dark shadows of the trees, through the ghostly clearings in the misty dusk. On the shores of the lake, where the mists and vapours covered one's hide with refreshing drops of moisture. There were the lures of burnt places among the tree trunks, the prickly teasels and thorns of insidious brambles, always full of strong-scented nests and the whir of bird's wings. Treacherously in autumn the damp leaves covered animal tracks. In spring came the desire to roam for love over the mosses and ferns. Winter waited quietly in the mornings after a snowy night. Sparkling with the cold snow, and the frost with grasping fingers, the world spread itself in downy delights. One could roll in it unthinking, later to stand like a black flame in one's own vapour. Then among the people the wonderful taste of bones and meat, sometimes hidden from punishment by the great stove, where was one's bedding and home.

But what's this? "Aza! Aza!" calls a man's voice somewhere, and wakes the dozing memory. The sweetness passes, and a dread awakes, the blessed nothingness escapes in a terrible anxiety. Now Aza wants to go home and put her head into the collar, if on,ly to escape from something which is approaching out of the darkness. So she tries to get up, hilt cannot move.

The sun has gone down behind the trees. The man's voice falls silent. Dusk grows ever darker. One can hear how the fat frogs are splashing, Aza is filled with fear-the inseparable companion of death, that fear of weakness, ~impotence, finally the fear of loneliness and cruel desertion. Something crushes the breast and stops the breath, covers the eyes and weights the eyelids as with lead. The pain penetrating every nerve and every Inch of the skin returns, bores into the bones and stabs in ears and nose. Aza groans.

It is already quite dark. From behind the wood the humpbacked moon climbs up and floods the lake with its white-ness. Immediately it is light. With the moon comes from far away the echo of the baying of hounds in chase, hunting music. Aza pricks her ears. How well she knows what every tone means. They have been chasing a hare, at first by scent; but now they run by sight; in a minute they will overtake it. The river of sound changes, becomes short bays, more and more eager, and at length becomes a general groan of all the pack, running through the woods like the sound of a herdsman's birch-wood horn.

Aza feels that the pain and fear are passing. She rises. The fire of the hunter's eagerness burns in her. Obedient to her instinct she runs to the forest, not through the trees, where the thickets are dense, but straight across the lake, where there are no obstacles. In her flight she treads the path of the rising moon, and does not leave this easy track. The silver beam quivers and bends under her paws, soft as moss. It leads Aza straight to the trees gloomy in their greatness, with murmuring 'tops. Among the shadows she clearly sees the forms of the hunting pack.- Already she smells their sweat. Aza makes a mighty effort to overtake the leaders, and throws out a loud song, a song of the ]o-y of hunting, and at the same time fear that the pack would dis-appear, and the triumph, soaked richly in hot blood, leave her behind.

Now she is in the midst of the pack and runs-runs-runs.