Across centuries of seasons, there have been willows greening for the Polish Spring on the Baltic shore at Gdynia. Invaders and occupiers have come and in time they have gone. The glowing beach has sometimes ebbed with a shift of wave or current, or swelled with a new deposit of sand. Even the dunes have grown or waned in their time.
But there have always been the willows, clinging to life through summer storm and winter freeze. It is as though they have studied the ways of the fishing people, who have learned how to pass through storms and how to judge the bending required when invader or occupier appears.
Now commotion and disorder was even infiltrating the ranks of Germans – professional soldiers whose future depended upon order and precision. They were turning their heads and rolling their eyes, all because of this young flirt in the pink dress and white lace. She was relentless. She ran up front and then back again to look from all angles and she always came back to march along with the very last row. And each time her eyes were fastened on him.
But his eyes were fastened forward where they belonged. He would not fail Lieutenant Niebel.
But now she ran to the other side, then back, dancing graceful half-circles from one side to the other, always looking straight at him. She made goosestepping uneasy for him.
No more time for Germans. As though it was for her to determine this for him. Chasing her after she made her mischief, he had thought her so young, such a child, because of the quickness of her feet in taking the long stride of men and because of her tireless running even after the parade. He had to move his fastest to catch her. But even in mischief he was happy with her, not only because she was so sweet and pretty but because she came from fishing people, and she was so clever with knot-tying. She even caught the interest and admiration of the Germans – even a First Lieutenant.
She wasn't so childlike after all.
So much was happening. Already he had forgotten everything right up to the time he first looked into this Jadwiga's eyes and saw that they sparkled when she looked at him. And now it was becoming an effort to remember the things that had happened just since that first look.
He was forgetting his knapsack, which he was entitled to keep. And he was forgetting the other Polish sergeants – the ones he had agreed to go to town with, to the dance.
Already she had him fully confused, awash in mystification.
And hadn't she mentioned America, even? What was it she said about America?
"Jadwiga is coming. With a soldier, Jadwiga is coming." The children passed the word.
Edmund Wdowiak had stayed ashore this day, expecting her. It wasn't worry, not even concern. She could handle herself, he knew. If he had been unable to teach her sewing and the finer points of preparing meals, he had at least taught her to handle herself. He couldn't tell her all a young woman must know of young women's things, but he told her what she must know of young men. It wasn't worry. It was just a matter of being there for her return. He walked the shore road toward them.
She ran ahead to him, leaving the one in the Prussian uniform answering the questions of the curious children who gathered about him. He expected her to careen into his arms and spin him around with the force of her greeting as she had done on the few other occasions when they were separated for more than a day. But it was not so enthusiastic, and he knew before she spoke that the soldier was more than a passing matter.
"Papa, I found him – the one in my dream."
And then he knew that it was really her voice calling to him, and he turned.
She ran full speed into his arms, crying. He had all he could do to stay on his feet, catching her.
"Paul, you must come back."
He looked at her, incredulous.
"Come back? Why? For what purpose? To apologize further? Because I'm not Polish enough for your father?"
"He thinks I'm not Polish because I learn things from Germans. He thinks a Polish bucket turns German if it carries their water."
"It isn't that..."
"He is not a reasonable man, Jadwiga. Your father is..."
She put her fingers on his lips, gently but firmly. Her voice stopped him in mid-sentence.
"Yes." A pause. "Yes, it's true. It is true that my father is too much a zealot in these political matters. But this wasn't a matter of politics, anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"Paul, it was a test of strength. He is a zealot, but... Oh, he doesn't even see it, but... You don't... Oh, Paul, all my father really wanted was to see that you are strong enough for me. You had to challenge him for me, and you did. And now he gives you respect for this. Come back. It will be he who will apologize. Please come back now."
When finally they parted Paul had a seizing moment of panic mixed with his feelings of excitement and love. Why did he let these conversations run away with his mouth? He had suggested marriage, and she had accepted. It was more than he had intended just yet, but as he walked toward the pier, the pounding of his heart told him that he had happened upon the right course – that he was too much in love not to follow through.
Then he became conscious of a movement behind him, was alarmed, and crouched, turning as he went. The first blow was thus a glancing one. In the clouded moonlight he sensed it was Wladek or Zdenek, then he realized it was both. In a split-second of sickness he felt certain they had been outside the Wdowiak shack – listening to his talk with Jadwiga.
The second blow, from behind, caught him squarely across the shoulders, and he crashed to the uncertain ground of rocks and sand and beach growth.
"This must have been a powerful opponent."
"He had the strength of two," Paul said, nearly laughing over his little joke, but caught short by pain.
The older man gave a last pull to tighten the makeshift support, and grunted. "How does that feel?"
"You should be a healer instead of a fisherman."
"Finish dressing now, and come to the house. We must leave very soon."
"Sir, before you go..." With difficulty, Paul started pulling on the trousers the elder Wdowiak had brought him.
"You need help."
"With your pants."
"Well, I can use some help, yes. But I wanted to speak with you."
He felt ridiculous. How could he ask Edmund Wdowiak for his daughter in marriage while the man was helping him put his pants on? In his few moments of lucid thought between bouts with pain, Paul had thought about how to ask this question. He would discuss his prospects as a farmer, he thought, and perhaps – depending on the older man's mood – mention the offer to be caretaker of his lieutenant's estates in Poland, an offer of employment which he still could take up. Now, being careful not to hurt himself as he cleared his throat, he tried to catch the father's eye as the man pushed a trouser up his right leg.
"I want to marry Jadwiga," he said.
He hadn't intended it to come out this way.
There was a moment, outside St. Teresa's Church, when Paul was distracted with a last-minute brushing of his shoes to remove dust they had accumulated on the road. He was assisted by Walenty, who carried a spare kerchief just for this purpose. Alfons Posienko had reviewed the groom's party and satisfied himself that he had done all he could to make them ready for the ceremonies about to begin. With some primping of his own, perhaps by way of example, he had brushed sand and dust from his own fine shoes and had pointed, in a hint, at Walenty's and Paul's.
As they stood straight again, shoes clean, Paul turned for a last moment of conversation with his father and mother, and he was caught in the distant beam of Jadwiga's broad smile. From the middle of her bride's party, just arriving, she had seen him, and her eyes were again flirtatious and possessive.
Only then did Walenty remember Rajmund Racek's caution about the groom being the first of the betrothed to see the other on their marriage day. But he, too, was captivated by Jadwiga's smile, and somehow it no longer seemed important that Paul be warned. Anyway, it was too late, and anyway, it was a belief only among these Kashuby.
But for the Skipper, there was that moment at Gostomski's Hall when Jadwiga became his married daughter and Paul became his new son-in-law – that moment when the music hesitated and his daughter passed into the arms of another, the drums took up the tempo, and the dance of life quickened.
The promise again. She would say he had promised.
"I did not promise you, Jadwiga."
"From the first, we talked of going to America."
"You talked of it. I said nothing."
"You said nothing. Was this to deceive me?" She turned to continue walking. He followed.
"No. I said nothing..."
She turned on him now, angry, tears threatening. "Did I wait until after we were married to tell you I wanted to go to America?"
"Did you wait until after we were married to tell me that you did not want to go to America?"
"I said nothing at first because..."
"Because you wished to deceive me."
"Jadwiga, I wished to do no such thing. I wished for us to be happy."
Now she smiled and her eyes widened as they always did when he said sweet things. "We will be happy in America." She took his arm and clung to him as though needing support to walk in the sand. "More happy than here."
He was disarmed. It was as on the parade ground at Poznan when she had made him forget. He had to concentrate to maintain his resolve. On this, he would not be charmed into forgetting.
"Pig!" shouted the bigger man, and now even more of the men turned to see what the commotion was all about. Now Jozef Dominiak prepared to charge again – this time at Paul.
Already, he was Big Jozef to the other men, and the immediate favorite in the fight about to start. Paul knew why. The others had only contempt for an upstart in a Prussian uniform with leanings to the Germans. They thought he had kissed German behinds for his promotion to sergeant. They were sure he was about to be thrashed.
Now he sidestepped and tripped Big Jozef, putting him off balance so that he tripped again while trying to avoid falling on people's crates and boxes. His head hit the flatcar's sideboard smartly, and he blinked momentarily with insensibility. Then, snarling in anger, teeth clenched, he began to rip off his long overcoat. He was ready for a serious fight.
But two of the men, thinking better of encouraging a fight between Poles on a German train, stood before Big Jozef, raising their hands to urge calm. Then more joined in, and though none touched him, by grouping before him, they held him in check.
"Stop this madness!" an elderly man yelled. "You will jeopardize us all! Stop!"
Jadwiga stooped to ask the child her name.
Child and mother answered at once, but child and mother disagreed.
"Teresa," said the girl.
"Franciska," said the mother, then she was immediately flustered by the discrepancy.
"I am Ludwig Karpczinski," said the husband. "My wife is Polka."
"The little girl likes to call herself Teresa," said Polka. "But she is Franciska."
Franciska's father looked at Stanislaw Krulik, who had listened to these awkward moments. Stanislaw shrugged, then nodded. Shifting, Ludwig moved so that Paul and Stanislaw and he formed a triangle separate from the women and child. "We are traveling as the Karpczinskis," he said, "and that must be the name by which we are known. Ludwig, Polka, and the child Franciska."
Paul looked confused, so Ludwig continued. "Our friends the Karpczinskis received their papers for America but they heard some things and they decided not to go. It is also said that the American authorities are getting more strict about newcomers. We decided not to wait."
Stanislaw and Ludwig looked at Paul, seeking a sign of understanding, perhaps not yet fully believing they could trust a man in a German uniform. Paul sensed this, and spoke forcefully in reassurance. "So this is who you are. The Karpczinskis – you are the Karpczinskis. Ludwig, Polka, and Franciska. This is who you are."
Ludwig was relieved. He patted Paul's shoulder, nodding and smiling. Stanislaw smiled, too. There was now an understanding among them, and a sense they could stand together.
This was not as he would have planned it.
Long before now, his Jadwiga would have been comfortable in a stone cottage on the lands of his German lieutenant in Poland. Instead she had to squat to the floor of a speeding freight car, thirsty, buffeted by moving air that gave no quarter. By now Jadwiga could be running through field and forest, taking clear water from cold springs and bringing him a lunch basket of beer and chicken as respite from the mending of fences. Instead her only taste of water was from a horse trough, gotten at risk of life, limb, and unborn child.
He would have been responsible for a country estate, a keeper of game and lands, earning a roof over their heads, perhaps supervising workers and using skills learned as a leader of other soldiers. Instead he ran like a fool to beg water of freightyard workers, and was expected to answer for getting too little.
He was heartsick. This was not as he would have planned it.
The young sailor felt through their clothes with searching fingers for anything they might be hiding inside their underclothing. The men found this embarrassing, but they knew it would do no good to protest, and they understood the need to take away fire-making materials.
But the sailor found no more contraband. When he reached Jan Poglicki, who had contrived to be the last inspected, he felt hard through Jan's heavy sweater, then motioned for him to take it off. He stepped back and gestured in accusation to his superior, forming a pistol with his hand.
But the things under Jan's belt were only a pair of flat-nosed pliers and a harmonica. He spoke Polish to the sailor in pretended explanation. "The harmonica isn't a lethal weapon except when played by a Galician, and the pliers are unusual only because they disappear when the railroad men of the wheelbarrows make trouble for Polish travelers."
This cocky admission of pickpocketing drew a restrained laugh from some in his own group, but only a shrug from the seaman, who was interested only in orders spoken in German. The officer in charge turned away with a grin on his face, amused by a passenger's concealment of such disparate objects. He went forward and up a wide ladder of steps leading to topside and the first-class deck. It meant they had passed the examination – even Jan Poglicki.
It was women's business, Paul knew – this matter of the jeopardy to the straightness of Maria's child. The grandmother Salomeya Steck and the midwife Ursula Jakubik had knowledge of these things. He didn't entirely subscribe to the belief that now haunted these wives as they prayed to Holy Mary. But he didn't know to a certainty. It was best, he thought, to allow the women their ways.
From what he heard, Jadwiga hadn't screamed. Going by what he saw, she certainly wasn't frightened by the hunchback. But it seemed to him a natural thing when Jadwiga knelt with Salomeya while the old woman prayed for her child, too. Prayer couldn't hurt, he thought.
But he felt awkward, standing with bowed head, naked above the waist, half-shaved, soap drying on his face. Furtively, the other men glanced at him occasionally as the grandmother beseeched saint after saint in behalf of Maria and Jadwiga and their babies. But they stole glances at Juliusz, too – glances that suggested pity – and Paul didn't like the feeling. But he realized that, like Juliusz, he should be at the side of his wife for this supplication to the Almighty and His saints, so he went to them and knelt, too, next to Jadwiga.
Paul chuckled. He and Jadwiga had talked about this business of the baby's hungers, and he didn't know what to make of it.
"Or if there were prunes..."
"Perhaps we'd better talk about something else, Jadwiga. Perhaps about names?"
"I am wary of this subject, Paul."
"Because of what Viktoria said?"
"My mother said the same thing. It was long ago, but what Viktoria said reminded me: the child named before birth is a temptation to fate."
"It's hard not to think about it."
"If we both think about it, when the time comes we'll be able to decide easily. Anyway, we won't know until the baby comes whether we will need a name for a boy or girl, so let's not decide now."
In Jadwiga's attitudes, Paul found an odd blend of women's beliefs he had heard in childhood, and new ones he thought must be special to the Poles of the Hel peninsula, or perhaps to fishing families. She was practical, a fisherman's daughter who could tempt fate daily on open water. She had learned, he thought, that her own resources, and those of the men who sailed with her, were the important consideration in surviving... that the superstitions of the sea meant little. Yet she deferred to an old wives' tale about the naming of children.
And sometimes she didn't know when to let go of a subject.
"It isn't that I really believe in this saying," she said, ignoring the fact that he thought he had closed the subject.
Exactly what happened was not reconstructed in detail until later when there was time to talk and sort things out. At the time, there was only the yelling, the banging, the scuffle, and the blood, then the men falling upon the combatants to restore sanity and order.
It started on the other side of the rainwater vat away from the parents when one of the Russian boys snatched cheese away from Konrad Dominiak. The other one held the infant, hand over mouth, so that he would not be heard to cry.
It happened by chance that while this was going on Big Jozef felt the need and was going to the manure pile, a smile still on his lips from a story told by Ludwig Karpczinski. No one was sure exactly what he saw, but it ignited his temper and detonated a rage, and before there could be any accounting of his movements, he had both the Russian youths by their throats, against the rainwater vat, and he was choking the life from them. Vicek even fell unconscious to the drainage deck when released. Both were released because their father, hearing the scuffle, came quickly around the vat to launch himself onto Big Jozef's shoulders to pull him away from his sons. He did this with an elbow crooked around the big Dominiak's neck and a knee thrust into the small of his back.
But once Big Jozef released the Russian youths, his hands and arms were free to turn on Piotr. From here on the other men caught glimpses of what was happening as they scrambled to stop it. As though he had no arm at all around his neck, Big Jozef spun around – he was roaring now in his rage – and drove a giant fist deep into Piotr's stomach. This took away all the Russian's breath and doubled him over in pain and surprise.
"It is not within my conscience to take a man's leg from him without giving him an explanation as to why this must be done. I will tell you, and then you must tell him and his wife. And you must help me to prepare him for this surgery, so that it will go as well as possible."
"Pardon, sir. You did say, 'take his leg'?"
"Oh, my God."
"What did you imagine could be done? Earlier, we had a chance. Now it's a matter of saving his life, not his leg." Paul was shocked by the seriousness of the situation.
"Herr Adamik, if it needs repeating... If there are any other injuries, from whatever cause, or any sickness, you are to notify me immediately. Immediately. Of all the passengers on this vessel you should know this without such a tragic lesson. If there is anything more of this kind, or if any injuries are being concealed in your section, I hold you responsible, personally. Am I speaking clearly?"
It was not simply a question of disfigurement, of looking different. There was more. A man's body was the engine of his family's survival. A man could take his family to a new country only because he had the means and muscle to provide for them. No one would expect to arrive maimed. The tragedy of a limb taken was the tragedy of a family in wreckage without protection, without opportunity. Without work, without pay, a man's family could be cast upon the countryside with constant deprivation the only prospect.
It would be serious enough at home in Poland, where there would be the larger family to help those stricken. There, at least, the taking of a man's leg would be a tragedy shared.
Back home, at least, one's children would not starve. A man's family would be dependent, but it would be understood that were circumstances reversed, the giver of help would be the helped. But for the Dominiaks there were no family members in America.
This was disaster. Nothing Paul had ever done qualified him to bring such tragedy into a man's life. It was hard enough telling Delfinia.
Paul carried, unrelieved and secret, the burden of his promise to Big Jozef. Mixed as it was with his worries over the baby coming and over the possibility of being blamed for the thefts of food, it was a confession he had to make to Jadwiga – whatever her reaction might be – however angry at him she might become. He had to confess it, he felt, and get on to the question, still unresolved, of accepting the doctor's help with the baby.
He brought these matters to another of their nighttime conversatons at the double-door.
"Jozef is only now beginning to understand that each new appearance of the doctor is not a threat to him," he said, intending it as an explanation for his being away so much. "The doctor thinks he took away all the bad part of the leg, but it still could be necessary to do something more on the table. He has to watch Jozef carefully – to know how he feels. And for Jozef to have trust in the doctor they must be able to talk. This is why the doctor wants me there during the day."
"I understand, Paul."
"For part of the night, I relieve Delfinia, because he still tries to thrash about sometimes."
"But he's going to be well, you think?"
"The doctor says he's as strong as a canal mule. Jozef cursed at him for taking his leg. The doctor says that's a good sign."
"Still, it's an awful thing."
"Jadwiga, I cannot imagine losing a leg. Well, I can, really, now that I've seen it happen to Jozef. But I can't imagine being... dealing with the consequences."
"It changes everything for him... for them."
"All he had to offer in America was his bigness for work. It's all I have to offer."
"But you can learn other things, Paul."
"But Jozef, not so much. He has – had – primarily his strength. And the opportunities to learn other things surely must depend on earning one's way doing the heavy lifting."
She didn't respond, waiting for him to continue.
"Jadwiga, when I was helping the doctor, it was necessary that Jozef be still – that he not fight the sponge or knife. I had to ask his promise that he wouldn't resist.
"I made him a promise, Jadwiga, because he was so concerned about his family. He thought he might die, and that if he would live he'd be unable to provide."
"What promise, Paul?"
"I promised that his family wouldn't go hungry in America. I promised I would stand by him."
She looked at him but gave no reaction.
"I know I may be unable to keep the promise. You and our child come first."
"But I hope it isn't necessary to leave them without help. They might not even be allowed to enter if Jozef can't work."
"We can say he is my brother."
"Yes. We'll say he's my brother, so he'll be accepted. They'll take us as one family."
"Then, you don't..."
"You're such a good man. I could see at the beginning in Poznan, that you were kind – perhaps too kind."
"I understand your promising. And your worry about keeping the promise. But we will try. We'll see what America has to offer and we'll see what can be done. We'll do our best to help them."
This was one of those times. She could surprise him. She was agreeing without his having to make the whole of the arguments. She was even contributing her own idea: She would be Jozef's sister; they would offer themselves in America as a family.
He was caught suddenly by a wave breaking over the deck and swept off his feet. He grabbed at one of the guide ropes but the water propelled him across the deck. He clawed at the wood for a hold. Finally his shoulder, below his outreaching arm, smacked painfully into something solid and he wrapped his arms around it and fought for footing that didn't come. Shocked, he saw he'd been driven to the rail and over it. He had grabbed the last thing available before open sea.
Salt water cascading off the deck tore at him, threatening to brush him off. Rain made everything slick. The eccentric movements of the ship defeated every effort to get his feet on something solid. He hung on in panic and desperation, knowing his strength couldn't last.
Suddenly there was a seaman sliding down the sloping deck, toward him, and Paul thought this man would go over the rail, too. But he had a rope tied around his waist and his wild movement was stopped abruptly. He reached over the rail to grab Paul's pants and belt and started to haul him in like a loose bale of hay. Realizing he had to release his grip on the outside of the rail and trust the seaman's strength, Paul had a moment of heightened panic – immediately followed by a forced surrender to fate.
Silently, to herself, she let issue a small prayer, so that He would know she was not letting this mercy pass without thankful notice. And proper thankfulness, too, for a perfect child – one without deficiency or defect. She had taken note of all these things, despite the turmoil, and now she wondered if he had as well. She knew when he asked the question:
"Jadwiga, is it... is the baby a boy or is it a girl?"
She laughed aloud. She couldn't help herself.
Why would she laugh at his question?
He had, after all, been concerned about her and about coping with this momentous event without the assistance of the doctor, or even the women. And there was the heaving of the Frederika, the shouting and screaming of the others, and the Dominiak children close at hand, themselves in possible jeopardy if shaken loose from safe haven.
And his greatest concern was for the child's safe arrival in the midst of all this turmoil. And the light had been bad. And it had all happened so very quickly.
"The letter was so important that people copied it down and sent copies all around the world. Soon, as I'm sure you can imagine, everybody was hearing about how the bad King was sending all his greatest generals and all his greatest armies to America to make the people obey him. And everybody knew that the King was very strong and powerful, and that he had many friends who were strong and powerful, too.
"Things did not look very good for the people in America. So do you know who decided to go and help them?"
The children said the name with reverence, for that was how it was to be when this story was told: "Kosciuszko." Even the smallest ones said the last part: "Tchoozsh-ko."
"That's right," Kazimierz said. And he gathered up his fist, turning it and thrusting it upward in three movements as he said the three sounds of the name again: "Kosciuszko." Then slowly, he said the great man's entire name.
"Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko. He was a very great Polish general, and he said, 'I will go to help the people of America.' He traveled across the ocean just as we are doing now, in a big boat with big masts and big sails, until he reached America, where the people were waiting for him, because by now they were in very great need of his help.
"'Come and follow me,' Kosciuszko said to the people, 'and I will show you how to fight bad Kings and the armies they send.' And so the people did. They followed Kosciuszko into battle, and do you know what happened?"
Then, behind them, he saw the land. It was a thin strip of shoreline, grey and brown and snow, splashed with a cinnamon sun, bare trees like stubble on the face of a giant at rest. Even this narrow interruption of the usual continuity of sea to sky spoke of vastness, for it stretched to the north and to the south as far as the eye could see. Paul felt his sea legs leave him for just a moment as the Frederika rolled gently in a reminder that for all the attention he gave this land he saw, he was still aboard ship.
The land was not beautiful, he could see. There was the lack of green, for one thing. And as mild as the day was beginning, there was a hint of winter's punishments in the air. There were no houses, no structures. But it staggered him; he was so accustomed to looking overboard at only waves that the sight of land brought with it a sudden displacement of thinking: The Frederika, world that it was, was no longer the whole of the world. Though he had known this in his mind, his heart had begun to doubt. Now there was a combination of feelings: an exultant joy that relief from the grinding confinement of this ship was at hand; a somber ache in the gut that land, so close, was yet distant.
Then a spattering of fear: It meant so much in uncertainty. For the first time, he alone was responsible for resolving that uncertainty not just to meet his own needs, but those of his wife, too, and for the tiny child she held – and lest he forget the prospect before him, all the Dominiaks.
In Jozef Dominiak's mind, the time aboard the Frederika would forever be divided into first part and second part. In the first part of this voyage, he had found it difficult spending so much continuous time with his children. The second part, after he lost his leg, was harder: he had never spent so much continuous time away from his children. Delfinia saw them when she went below. But for him, the loss of the loving hugs of his children had become almost as difficult as the loss of his leg.
Accepting her help, he moved to a chair facing the door. She placed a blanket in his lap so that it would fall to the floor in a drape – a shield. He had seen other men this way, disability hidden but not concealed. In this moment, he felt himself pass from status as patient – impairment forgiven and treated, to status as cripple – impairment forever his mark of differentiation.
And then his children burst in on him. Franek carried Konrad, but Delfinia took the littlest one immediately, and Franek ran to him, arms outstretched and reaching to be embraced. The twins were immediately behind. In pain, he wished he'd foreseen that they would climb onto his lap. But the hurt in his stubbed leg was overwhelmed by the happy tears, anyway, as he hugged all three of them. They were saying "Papa, Papa," and for a precious moment this made him feel like a whole man again.
And then past the trio of heads he saw Pelagia, standing back, ever shy. Cutting across the upright straightness of her frail body there were the crutches, taller than herself, her arms wrapped around them because her hands were too small to grasp them. He gave the two in his lap a special hug and then he turned his attention to her, tilting his head just so to tell her how much he loved her. She took a small step, and then three big ones, dragging the wooden implements along the floor, and there was the awkward moment when she wanted to hand him these things she had brought for him, but wanted more to be hugged by her Papa.
He was able to hold Magda and Manya with one arm, and with the other he reached out and drew her to him, crutches and all.
It was only because the children might not understand – only for that was he able to keep the discipline of silence, and not cry aloud.
"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
"Aboard the ship, I bought stolen food from thieves, even while knowing that this would encourage their thefts.
"I lied to the officers of the ship so that I would not be punished for my part in this.
"I lied to the American authorities by telling them that my friend Jozef is my wife's brother, so that he would get into America."
His parents, Paul thought, would understand about the food for Jadwiga. And about the lies to avoid punishment. And they would even understand about the lies to get Jozef into America without paying a bond for him. But all these things, they would tell him, would require his confession to a priest. The lying, especially.
"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
"My husband was present with me when my daughter was born."
In the Wdowiak family, lying to authorities was not something one confessed to a priest. Lying to authorities was something one did to disrupt their hold on one's life – to gain a little freedom and flexibility.
The cracking and breaking of the sharded ice of the southeastern shore of Lake Erie comes each Spring as though its day is appointed in the Book of Time. There is first the sun, and when it has held on for a few days so that the ice below knows it is serious, the ice gives up its death grip on the shoreline.
The sounds of yielding ice – now and again mistaken for distant thunder by the visitor or newcomer – are beautiful, for they mean that winter has at last gone its overdue way into the recesses of a plodding calendar.
It can happen in a day and a half – from ice to open water.
So it was in the spring of 1870.
So it was that Delfinia took from Jadwiga the sewing and reworking of Paul's army uniform to be worn to meet the priest. "I'll do it," she said. "You go down to see the jezioro."
Jadwiga was grateful. It wasn't just that she wanted to see the lake. Delfinia was far better than she with scissors and threaded needle, and Jadwiga wanted Paul to look his best on Sunday.
His uniform. Changed.
Saturday had come. Work and confession were behind him, and this was the surprise they had for him. Pelagia was allowed to tell it, but it was Jadwiga's surprise, and Delfinia's, and the women were proudly displaying what Delfinia had brought forth from the garment, expecting pleasure and gratitude and praise.
It brought a wash of feeling over him.
He was impressed with the handiwork, to be sure. Delfinia – Jadwiga attributed all the accomplishment to her – had somehow closed buttonholes that were once there, taken the adornment from sleeves, even slackened the fall of the jacket past his waist. The handiwork was very much to be admired.
But – his uniform.
His uniform was the one thing he had accomplished – the one thing for which an established, official organization had accorded him recognition. He had gone through a mired hell for the Germans, never fighting except against his own crushing feelings of inferiority. He had withstood their mistreatments and crude jokes and had given them proof he was made of their same disciplined steel, and when the time came, they had recognized his strengths and put him in the blue uniform and even gave the rifle to carry. It was an accomplishment, recognized and rewarded.
Now the uniform was gone. And he was expected to be delighted.
He still had the discharge papers, but it wasn't the same.
Oddly, he didn't feel anger that they had done this without asking him. He wished they had asked, but understood that they wouldn't. They were women, after all, unconcerned with military things and the achievement of discipline and strength. To Jadwiga the uniform was nothing more than the costume in which the Germans had delivered him to her.
But even these were not the things that raced across his mind, and it wasn't until later, sitting quietly after dinner, that he knew it for the feeling it was.
It was as Jadwiga had said it would be. Spring made things better.
Paul was grateful for the chance to lay tie and track without constantly fighting the accumulating snow and frozen earth. Konrad discovered that there was a world, after all, beyond the wall of the little house near the lake, and he was turning his determined walk into a tentative run.
Delfinia did start a garden, but it soon became Jozef's special project. He was already half-way down on his haunches, he said, already naturally adapted for cultivation. Saying nothing, Delfinia had spaced the rows just the imperceptible amount farther apart so he could be comfortable between them.
Spring brought out the schooners in the harbor, and the fishermen who knew well how to sail them. The sails were something to see, brisking off over the horizon, or returning, slower, the boats heavy with fish. The fish market grew active, and Jadwiga soon understood two new American words: wholesale and retail.
Jadwiga fished. With Helena in the sling on her back, she consulted with an old Polish man who fished the edges of the lake. She learned the preferred baits for whitefish and pike. On good days, with fish left over, she was able to sell a few to a young German who packed them with ice into a barrel, which he then took on his wagon to the railroad.