Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse/In the Old Town at Łodz
W. S. REYMONT: IN THE OLD TOWN AT ŁODZ.
Lower down, behind the New Market Square, it teemed with Jews and workmen hurrying towards the Old Town. At this spot, the Piotrokow Street changed its aspect and character for the third time, for from Gajer Market to Nawrot it is a street of factories, from Nawrot to the New Market Square a business thoroughfare, and from thence downwards into the Old Town, it is taken up by Jewish second-hand dealers.
Here the mud was blacker and slimier, there was a different kind of pavement in front of each house, sometimes it consisted of broad stonework, then a narrow, worn-out strip of concrete, or it became merely a series of tiny, mudstained cobbles which were a torment to the foot. The gutters flowed with liquid refuse from the factories, and this extended in the form of dirty-yellow, red and sky-blue ribbons; from some houses and the factories, which lay behind them, the overflow was SO copious that, unable to find room in the shallow gutters, it rose above the kerb and flooded the pavements with coloured waves, even up to the worn thresholds of numerous little shops, from whose black, miry interiors was wafted dirt and decay, the smell of herrings, of rotting vegetables or of alcohol.
The houses which were old, tumble-down, dingy, with the plaster crumbling in gaps like wounds, with bare brickwork, here and there of wood or with common panelling, cracking and slipping away by the doors and windows, at the crooked edges of the window-sashes, twisted, jaded, dirty, stood like a ghastly row of corpse-houses, amongst which new ones were thrusting themselves,—three-storied giants with countless windows, not yet whitewashed, without balconies, with makeshift windows, and already full of human antheaps, and the throb of the spinning looms, which worked regardless of Sunday, the rattle of noisy machines, weaving shoddy for export, and the piercing creak of spindles by which the yarn was wound on to bobbins for the use of the hand-looms.
In front of these endless houses, which rose up with their red and frowning walls above the ocean of perishing ruins and bustle of hucksters, lay whole stacks of bricks and wood, blocking up the already narrow street, which swarmed with carts, horses, with goods in transport, with uproar, with the cries of dealers and the thousand-fold voices of workmen, who were pouring along in multitudes to the Old Town; they walked in the middle of the road or by the side of the pavement; their many-coloured shawls which they had twisted about their necks, lent a touch of brightners to the general grey-grimy tint of the street.
The Old Town and all the little streets round about, quivered with the usual Sunday bustle.
On the rectangular space, flanked by old, one-storeyed houses which had never been renovated, and full of shops, taverns and so-called Bierhallen, littered with hundreds of hideous booths and stalls, there thronged several thousand people, hundreds of carts and horses—the whole a mingled shouting, talking, cursing, pushing.
This shrieking chaos was surging from one side of the square to the other. Above this tangle of heads, dishevelled hair, upraised arms, horses' heads, butchers' axes flashing swiftly in the sunshine, as they were lifted above the hacked joints of meat, huge loaves of bread, which the jostle of the crowd had raised above the heads, yellow, green, red, violet scarves fluttering like banners from the clothing-stalls; caps and hats hanging on poles, boots, woollen shawls, which, like coloured snakes fluttered in the wind and beat against the faces of the crowd; tin vessels glittering in the sunshine; piles of bacon, stacks of oranges, arranged on trestles, balloons, shining gaudily against the dark background of the mob, and a plaster of mud, half-dissolved, trampled upon, stirred up, was splashed from underfoot on to the booths and the peoples' faces and oozed from the square into the gutters and on to the streets which surrounded the market on four sides, through which huge brewers' drays filled with barrels, were slowly passing, carts with meat, covered up with dirty rags, or shining from afar with reddish-yellow ribs of beef, wrenched away from the hides; carts laden with sacks of flour, carts full of fowls that were uttering shrill cries, the quacking of ducks and the cackling of geese, which thrust out their white heads through the bars of their coops and hissed at the passers-by.
From time to time, at the side of these endless rows of carts, passing one after the other, some elegant carriage would hastily slip through, bespattering with mud the people, the carts, the pavements, upon which squatted old, worn-out Jewesses with baskets full of cooked peas, sweetmeats, preserved apples and children's playthings.
In front of shops which were open and filled with people, stood tables, chairs, benches, upon which lay whole loads of fancy goods, stockings, socks, artificial flowers, cambric as stiff as sheets of tin, gaudy counterpanes, cotton lace. At one end of the Market Square stood yellow-tinted bedsteads, wardrobes, which would not shut and imitation mahogany with a bronze stain. Mirrors in which nothing could be seen, glittered in the sun; cradles, piles of kitchen utensils, behind which, on the ground, upon a few wisps of straw, sat peasant women with butter and milk, dressed in red woollen frocks and aprons. And amid the carts and trestles there were women who pushed their way through with baskets of starched cotton mob-caps, which were being tried on right in the middle of the street.
In Poprzeczna Street, close by the Market Square, stood tables with hats, on which wretched flowers, rusty clasps, and gaudy, dyed feathers, waved sadly to and fro against a back-ground of house walls.
Men's outfits were being bought, sold and tried on in the street, in passages, even against a wall, behind a screen that generally screened nothing.
The work-women were also trying on dresses, prone and petticoats.
The uproar increased continually, for from the upper part of the town the buyers were pouring in streams, and fresh cries arose, invitations were bawled from hoarse throats, the noise of children's trumpets tooted from all sides, the clatter of carts, the squeaking of sucking-pigs, the screeching of geese, all the crazy uproar of a human assembly simmered and beat against that pure, sunlit heaven, which hung above the city like a pale, clear-green canopy.
In one of the taverns there was playing and dancing, so that from time to time, through the unholy din and uproar, there penetrated the sound of harmonium and fiddles performing a rustic dance, and the loud, heated outcries of the dancers, but these sounds were soon lost amid the chaos of a brawl which bad broken out in the middle of the market square, by the smoked-meat stalls.
Some dozen or so bodies, writhing and grappling together, scuffed amid yells, and staggered off in all directions, until in the end they tumbled under the stalls into the mud, wallowing and fighting tooth and nail like a huge tangle, swarming with arms, legs, blood-stained faces, projecting tongues, whites of eyes bulging with madness.—"The Promised Land," Vol. I. Ch. 6.