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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 1
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 1 Post by :Trinity Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :1177

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 1

PART SIXTH: CHAPTER I

Although Glowacz was somewhat anxious to hasten to Zgorzelice, he could not make the progress he wished, because the road was exceedingly bad. A general thaw had followed the severe winter, keen frost, and immense snowdrifts which covered whole villages.

Luty (February), in spite of its name,(110) by no means showed itself formidable. First there were thick, continuous fogs, succeeded by torrential rains, which melted the white snowdrifts before one's eyes; and in the intervals there were very high winds as is usual in the month of March; then the tempestuous clouds were suddenly torn asunder by the wind which now drove them together, and now scattered them, whilst on the earth the wind howled in the thickets, whistled in the forests and dispersed the snow beneath which only a short time before the boughs and trunks had slept their silent, wintry sleep.


(Footnote 110: February is called in
Polish "Luty," meaning also dreadful,
awful, etc.)


The woods assumed a dark color. The meadows were inundated with broad sheets of water. The rivers and streams overflowed. Only the fishermen were glad at the abundance of the watery element, but the rest of humanity were confined as within a prison, sheltering themselves within their houses and huts. In many places communication between village and village could only be effected by means of boats. There was no lack of dams, dykes and roads through the forests and swamps, constructed of trunks, of trees and logs, but now the dykes became soft and the stumps in the low, wet places endangered travel, or the roads were rendered altogether impracticable. The most difficult part for the Bohemian to traverse was the lake-land region of Wielkopolska, where every spring the thaw was greater than in any other part of Poland. Consequently the road was specially difficult for horses.

He was therefore obliged to wait whole weeks, sometimes in small towns, sometimes in villages and farms, where he and his men were hospitably received, according to custom, by the people, who were willing listeners to the tale of the "Knights of the Cross," and paid for it with bread and salt. For this reason spring was already far advanced, and the greater part of March had already passed before he found himself in the neighborhood of Zgorzelice and Bogdaniec.

He longed to see his mistress as soon as possible, although he knew that he could never gain her, even as he could not gain the stars of heaven; nevertheless he adored and loved her with his whole soul. Yet he resolved first to go and see Macko; first, because he was sent to him; secondly, because he was bringing men with him who were to be left at Bogdanice. Zbyszko, having killed Rotgier, according to established rules, became the owner of his following, which consisted of ten men and as many horses. Two of them had been sent back with the body of Rotgier to Szczytno. Knowing how anxious his uncle was to obtain colonists, he sent the remaining eight men by Glowacz as a present to old Macko.

The Bohemian, on his arrival at Bogdaniec, did not find Macko at home; he was informed that Macko had gone with his dogs and crossbow to the forest; but he returned the same day, and having heard that an important retinue was waiting for him, he hastened to salute the guests and offer them hospitality. He did not recognize Glowacz at first, but when he gave his name, Macko was greatly agitated, and throwing down his hat and crossbow he cried:

"For God's sake! tell me, have they killed him? Tell what you know."

"They have not killed him," replied the Bohemian. "He is enjoying good health."

On hearing this, Macko was somewhat ashamed of himself, and began to puff; at last he drew a deep breath.

"Praised be the Lord Christ," he said. "Where is he now?"

"He left for Malborg and sent me here with news."

"And why did he go to Malborg?"

"To fetch his wife."

"Be careful, boy, in the name of God what wife did he go for?"

"For Jurand's daughter. There is much to be told about it, enough for a whole night, but, honored sir, allow me to rest a little, for I have been constantly traveling since midnight."

Macko ceased questioning for a little while, for his great surprise deprived him of speech. When he had somewhat recovered, he shouted to the servant to throw some wood on the fire and bring food for the Bohemian; then he began to pace up and down, gesticulating and talking to himself:

"I cannot believe mine own ears.... Jurand's daughter.... Zbyszko married...."

"He is married and not married," said the Bohemian.

Then he began slowly to relate what had happened, while Macko listened eagerly, only interrupting with questions when what the Bohemian related was not quite clear to him. For instance, Glowacz could not give the exact time when Zbyszko had got married, as there had been no public marriage. Nevertheless he affirmed that that marriage had surely taken place, and that it had come to pass owing to the instigation of Princess Anna Danuta, and had been made public only after the arrival of the Knight of the Cross, Rotgier, when Zbyszko had challenged him to the judgment of God, in the presence of the entire Mazovian court.

"Ah! He fought?" Macko exclaimed, his eyes sparkling with intense curiosity. "What followed?"

"He cut the German in two, and God also made me happy by delivering the armor-bearer into my hands."

Macko again began to puff, but this time with an air of satisfaction.

"Well!" he said. "He is a fellow not to be trifled with. He is the last of the Gradys, but so help me God, not the least. He was that already in the fight with the Fryzjans ... when he was a mere stripling...."

Here he glanced sharply once and again at the Bohemian, then he continued:

"And so you tried to imitate him, and it seems you tell the truth. I doubted your words, but, as you yourself say, you had little work with the armor-bearer. But if he chopped off the arm of that dog-brother after killing the Aurochs, those are valiant deeds."

Then he suddenly asked:

"Is there rich spoil?"

"We have taken the arms, horses and ten men, eight of whom, the young lord sends you."

"What has he done with the other two?"

"He sent them back with the corpse."

"Why did not the prince send two of his own servants? Those two will not return."

The Bohemian smiled at Macko's greed which often betrayed him.

"The young lord need not consider such trifles now," he said, "Spychow is a large estate."

"It is a large estate; what of it, it is not yet his."

"Then whose is it?"

Macko rose from his seat.

"Speak! and Jurand?"

"Jurand is a prisoner, and dying, in the hands of the Knights of the Cross. God knows whether he will survive, and even if he survives and returns, what of it? Did not Father Caleb read Jurand's testament, announcing to all that the young lord is to be their master?"

The last words obviously made a great impression upon Macko; because he was too much amazed to thoroughly grasp the news. That Zbyszko had got married was painful to him at the first moment, for he loved Jagienka with a fatherly love, and heartily wished to see Zbyszko united to her. But, on the other hand, he had already grown accustomed to regard the affair as lost; moreover Jurandowna brought with her so much that Jagienka could never bring; the prince's favor, and being an only daughter her dower was many times greater. Macko already saw Zbyszko, as the prince's friend, the master of Bogdaniec and of Spychow; nay, in the near future, a castellan. That was not at all unlikely. For it was told in those days of a certain poor nobleman who had twelve sons, six fell in battle and the other six became castellans and were advancing toward greatness; only a reputation could assist Zbyszko in this career, so that Macko's ambition and greed for a pedigree might be realized according to his wishes. The old man, however, had much cause for alarm. He, himself, had once gone to the Knights of the Cross, to save Zbyszko and brought back with him an iron splinter between the ribs; now Zbyszko had gone to Malborg, into the very throat of the wolf. Was it to get his wife there or death? They would not look upon him there with a favorable eye, thought Macko. He had just destroyed one of their famous knights and before that he had killed Lichtenstein. Those dog-blooded men loved vengeance. That thought made the old knight very uneasy. It also occurred to him that Zbyszko, being quick tempered, would engage in a fight with some German; or what he most feared was that they would kidnap him as they had old Jurand and his daughter. At Zlotorja they did not scruple to kidnap even the prince himself. Why then should they be scrupulous with Zbyszko?

Then he asked himself what would happen if the youngster should escape the knights, but not find his wife? This thought pleased him, because even if Zbyszko should not recover her, he would still be the owner of Spychow, but that pleasure only lasted for a moment. For while the old man was much concerned about the property, yet Zbyszko's offspring interested him quite as much. If Danusia were to be lost, like a stone in the water and nobody knew whether she were alive or dead, Zbyszko could not marry another, and then there would be no heir to the Gradys of Bogdaniec. Ah! It would be quite another thing if he were married to Jagienka!... Moczydoly was not to be scorned; it was spacious and well stocked. Such a girl, like an apple-tree in the orchard, would bring forth every year without fail. Thus Macko's regret was greater than his joy at the prospect of the possession of the new estate. His regret and agitation caused him to renew his questions, and he again inquired of the Bohemian how and when the marriage had taken place.

But the Bohemian replied:

"I have told you already, honored sir, that I do not know when it happened, and what I conjecture I cannot confirm with an oath."

"What do you conjecture?"

"I have never left my young master and we slept together. On one evening only, he ordered me to leave him when I saw them all visit him: the princess accompanied by the lady Jurandowna, (Danusia,) Lord de Lorche and Father Wyszoniek. I was even surprised to see the young lady with a wreath on her head; but I thought they had come to administer the sacrament to my master.... It may be that the marriage took place then.... I recollect that the master commanded me to attire myself as for a wedding ceremony, but then I also thought that that was to receive the eucharist."

"And after that, did they remain by themselves?"

"They did not remain alone; and even if they had remained by themselves the master was then so feeble that he could not even eat without assistance. And there were already people sent by Jurand waiting for the young lady, and she left the following morning...."

"Then Zbyszko has not seen her since?"

"No human eye has seen her."

Then silence reigned for a while.

"What do you think?" asked Macko, presently. "Will the Knights of the Cross give her up, or not?"

The Bohemian shook his head, then he waved his hand discouragingly.

"I think," he said, slowly, "she is lost forever."

"Why?" asked Macko in terror.

"Because, when they said they had her there was yet hope, one could yet contend with them, either to ransom her, or take her from them by force. 'But,' they said, 'we had a girl retaken from robbers and we notified Jurand; he did not recognize her, and he killed of our people, in our very presence, more than fall in one good fight in war.'"

"Then they showed Jurand some other girl."

"So it is said. God knows the truth. It may not be true, and it may be that they showed him some other girl. But it is a fact that he killed people, and the Knights of the Cross are ready to swear that they never abducted Panna Jurandowna, and that is an exceedingly difficult affair. Even should the grand master order an investigation, they would reply that she was not in their hands; especially since the courtiers of Ciechanow spoke of Jurand's letter in which he said that she was not with the Knights of the Cross."

"It may be she is not with them."

"I beg your pardon, sir!... If they had recaptured her from the robbers, it would have been for no other motive than for ransom. The robbers, before that happened could neither write a letter nor imitate the signature of the lord of Spychow, nor send an honorable messenger."

"That is true; but what do the Knights of the Cross want her for?"

"Revenge on Jurand's race. They prefer vengeance to mead and wine; and if they want a pretext, they have one. The lord of Spychow was terrible to them, and his last deed completely finished them.... My master, I also heard, had lifted up his hand against Lichtenstein; he killed Rotgier.... God helped me, too, to shatter that dog-brother's arm. Wait, I pray, let us consider. There were four of them to be exterminated; now hardly one is alive, and that one is an old man, and your grace must bear in mind that we yet have our teeth."

There was again silence for a moment.

"You are a discreet armor-bearer," said Macko, at last; "but what do you think they are going to do with her?"

"Prince Witold, they say, is a powerful prince, even the German emperor bows to him; and what did they do to his children? Have they but few castles? Few underground prisons? Few wells? Few ropes and halters for the neck?"

"For the living God's sake!" exclaimed Macko.

"God grant that they may not also detain the young lord, although he went there with a letter from the prince, and accompanied by de Lorche who is a powerful lord and related to the prince. Ah, I did not want to set out for this place. But he commanded me to go. I heard him once say to the old lord of Spychow: 'It is to be regretted that you are not cunning, for I shall get nothing by craft, and with them that is a necessary thing. O Uncle Macko! he would be useful here;' and for that reason he dispatched me. But as for Jurandowna, even you, sir, will not find her, for probably she is already in the other world, and where death is concerned, even the greatest cunning cannot prevail."

Macko was absorbed in thought for a long while, after which he said:

"Ha! Then there is no counsel. Cunning cannot prevail against death. But if I were to go there and only get assurance that she has been removed, then in that case Spychow as well as Zbyszko remain. He will be able to return here and marry another maiden."

Here Macko breathed freely, as though a burden were removed from his heart, and Glowacz asked in a bashful, subdued voice:

"Do you mean the young lady of Zgorzelice?"

"Well!" replied Macko, "especially as she is an orphan, and Cztan of Rogow and Wilk of Brzozowa continually press their court to her."

At that the Bohemian straightened himself up.

"Is the young lady an orphan?... The knight Zych?..."

"Then you do not know."

"For the love of God! What has happened?"

"Well you are right. How could you know, since you have just arrived; and our only conversation has been about Zbyszko. She is an orphan. Unless he had guests, Zych of Zgorzelice never remained at home; otherwise he avoided Zgorzelice. He wrote about you to his abbot that he was going to visit Prince Przemka of Oswiecemia and ask him to give you to him. Zych did it because he was well acquainted with the prince and they have often frolicked together. Consequently Zych called upon me and said as follows: 'I am going to Oswiecemia, then to Glewic; keep your eye on Zgorzelice.' I at once suspected something wrong and said: 'Don't go! I will keep good watch over Jagienka and the estate,' for I know that Cztan and Wilk intend to do you some wrong, and you ought to know that the abbot out of spite against Zbyszko, preferred Cztan or Wilk for the girl. But he subsequently learned to know them better and rejected both of them, and turned them out of Zgorzelice; but not effectually, for they obstinately persisted. Now they have quieted down for a while, for they have wounded each other and are laid up, but before that occurred there was not a moment of security. Everything is upon my head, protection and guardianship. Now Zbyszko wishes me to come.... What will happen here to Jagienka--I don't know, but now I will tell you about Zych; he did not follow my advice--he went. Well, they feasted and frolicked together. From Glewic they went to see old Nosak, Prince Przemka's father, who rules in Cieszyn; till Jasko, the prince of Racibor, out of hatred for Prince Przemka, set upon them the robber band under the leadership of the Bohemian Chrzan; Prince Przemka and Zych of Zgorzelice perished in the affray. The robbers stunned the abbot with an iron flail, so that even now his head shakes and he knows nothing of what is going on in the world and has lost his speech, God help him, forever! Now old Prince Nosak bought Chrzan from the owner of Zampach, and tortured him so much that even the oldest inhabitants never heard of such cruelty,--but the cruelty did not lessen the sorrow of the old man for his son; neither did it resuscitate Zych, nor wipe away the tears of Jagienka. This is the result of the frolic.... Six weeks ago they brought Zych here and buried him."

"Such a hard master!..." sorrowfully said the Bohemian. "Under Boleslaw I was comfortably situated when he took me into captivity. But such was the captivity that I would not have exchanged it for freedom.... He was a good and worthy master! May God grant him eternal glory. Ah, I am very sorry! But I must grieve for the helpless young lady."

"Because the poor thing is a good girl, she loved her father more than a man loves his mother. Then too she is not safe in Zgorzelice. After the funeral, scarcely had the snow covered Zych's grave, when Cztan and Wilk stepped into the mansion of Zgorzelice. My people were informed of it beforehand. Then I, with the farm hands went to the rescue; we arrived in good time and with God's help we gave them a good thrashing. Immediately after the fight, the girl fell on her knees and begged me to save her. 'If I cannot belong to Zbyszko,' she said, 'I will belong to nobody else; only save me from those torturers, I prefer death to them....' I tell you that I made a real castle out of Zgorzelice. After that, they appeared twice on the premises, but believe me, they could not succeed. Now there will be peace for some time, for as I told you: they hurt each other badly, so much so, that neither is able to move head or foot."

Glowacz made no observation upon this, but when he heard of the conduct of Cztan and Wilk, he began to gnash his teeth so loudly, that it sounded like the creaking caused by the opening and closing of a door, then he began to rub his strong hands upon his thighs as though they were itching. Finally, he uttered with difficulty only one word:

"Villains!"

But at that moment, a voice was heard in the entrance-hall, the door suddenly opened and Jagienka rushed into the house, and with her was Jasko, her oldest brother, who was fourteen years old and looked as like her, as though they were twins.

She had heard from some peasants at Zgorzelice, that they had seen the Bohemian Hlawa, at the head of some people, journeying to Bogdaniec, and like Macko, she also was terrified, and when they informed her that Zbyszko was not among them she was almost sure that some misfortune had happened. She therefore lost no time and hastened to Bogdaniec to ascertain the truth.

"What has happened?... For God's sake tell me," she shouted, when yet upon the threshold.

"What should happen?" replied Macko. "Zbyszko is alive and well."

The Bohemian hastened toward the young lady, knelt upon one knee and kissed the hem of her dress, but she paid no attention to it; only when she heard the reply of the old knight she turned her head from the fireplace to the darker side of the room, and only after a while, as if having forgotten that it was necessary to salute the Bohemian, she said:

"The name of Jesus Christ be praised!"

"Forever and ever," replied Macko.

Then she observed the kneeling Bohemian at her feet and bent toward him.

"From my soul I am glad to see you, Hlawa, but why did you leave your master behind?"

"He sent me away, most gracious lady."

"What were his orders?"

"He ordered me to go to Bogdaniec."

"To Bogdaniec?... What else?"

"He sent me to get counsel.... He also sends his compliments and good wishes."

"To Bogdaniec? Very well, then. But where is he himself?"

"He left for Malborg, and is now among the Knights of the Cross."

Jagienka's face again assumed an expression of alarm.

"Why, is he tired of life?"

"He is in quest, gracious lady, of that which he will not be able to find."

"I believe he will not find it," interrupted Macko. "Just as one cannot drive a nail without a hammer, so are man's wishes without the will of God."

"What are you talking about?" cried Jagienka. But Macko replied with another query.

"Did he say to you that Zbyszko went for Jurandowna? It seems to me that he did."

Jagienka at first did not reply, and only after awhile, catching her breath, she replied:

"Ay! He said! But what hindered him telling?"

"Well, then, now I can talk freely."

And he began to tell to her all that he had heard from the Bohemian. He wondered at himself why his words came haltingly and with difficulty, but being a clever man, he tried to avoid any expression that might irritate Jagienka, and he dwelt strongly upon what he himself believed, that Zbyszko was never the husband of Danusia in reality and that she was already lost to him forever.

The Bohemian confirmed Macko's words now and then, sometimes by nodding his head in approval, sometimes repeating "By God, true, as I live," or: "It is so, not otherwise!" The young lady listened, with eyelashes lowered till they touched her cheeks; she asked no more questions, and was so quiet that her silence alarmed Macko.

"Now, what do you say to that?" he enquired when he had ended.

But she did not reply, only two tears glistened between her eyelids and rolled down her cheeks.

After a while she approached Macko, and kissing his hand, said:

"The Lord be praised."

"Forever and ever," replied Macko. "Are you so much needed at home? Better stay with us."

But she refused to remain, giving as a reason that she had not given out the provisions for supper. But Macko, although he knew that there was the old lady, Sieciechowa, at Zgorzelice, who could easily fulfil Jagienka's duties, did not persuade her to remain, for he knew that sorrow does not like the light on human tears, and that a man is like a fish, when it feels the penetrating harpoon in its body it sinks to the depths.

Then he only regarded her as a girl, so he led her and the Bohemian into the courtyard.

But the Bohemian brought the horse from the stable, harnessed him, and departed with the young lady.

But Macko returned to the house, shook his head, and murmured:

"What a fool that Zbyszko is?... Why, her presence seems to have filled the whole house with perfume."

The old man lamented to himself. "Had Zbyszko taken her immediately after he returned, by this time there might have been joy and delight! But what of it now? If they should speak of him her eyes would immediately be filled with tears of longing, and the fellow is roaming about the world and may break the head of some of the knights at Malborg, provided they do not break his; and now the house is empty, only the arms on the wall glitter. There is some benefit in husbandry. Running about is nothing, Spychow and Bogdaniec are nothing. Very soon none will remain to whom they might be left."

Here Macko became angry.

"Wait, you tramp," he exclaimed, "I will not go with you, you may do as you like!"

But at that very moment he was seized with an exceeding yearning after Zbyszko.

"Bah! shall I not go," he thought. "Shall I remain at home? God forbid!... I wish to see that rascal once more. It must be so. He will again fight one of those dog-brothers--and take spoil. Others grow old before they receive the belt of knighthood, but he already has received the belt from the prince.... And rightly so. There are many valorous youths among the nobility; but not another like him."

His tender feelings entirely subdued him. First he began to look at the arms, swords and axes which had become blackened by the smoke, as though considering which to take with him, and which to leave behind; then he left the house; first, because he could not stay there; secondly, to give orders to prepare the carriage and give the horses double provender.

In the courtyard where it was already beginning to grow dark, he remembered Jagienka, who only a moment ago sat here on horseback, and he again became uneasy.

"I must go," he said to himself, "but who is going to protect the girl against Cztan and Wilk. May thunder strike them."

But Jagienka was on the road with her little brother, Jasko, crossing the woods leading to Zgorzelice, and the Bohemian accompanied them in silence, with love and grief in his heart. A moment since he saw her tears, now he looked at her dark form, scarcely visible in the darkness of the forest, and he guessed her sorrow and pain. It also seemed to him that at any moment Wilk or Cztan's rapacious hands might dart from the dark thicket and grasp her, and at that thought, he was carried away by wild anger and longed for a fight. At times the desire for fight was so intense that he wanted to grasp his axe or sword and cut down a pine tree on the road. He felt that a good fight would comfort him. Lastly he would be glad, even if he could let the horse go at a gallop. But he could not do it, they rode silently in front of him, and at a very slow gait, foot by foot, and little Jasko, who was of a talkative disposition, after several attempts to engage his sister in conversation, seeing that she was unwilling to speak, desisted, and also sank into deep silence.

But when they were approaching Zgorzelice, the sorrow in the Bohemian's heart turned to anger against Cztan and Wilk: "I would not spare even my blood in your behalf," he said to himself, "provided it comforted you. But what can I, unfortunate, do? What can I tell you? Unless I tell you that he ordered me to kneel before you. And, God grant that that might be of some comfort to you."

Thinking thus, he urged his horse close to Jagienka's.

"Gracious lady...."

"Are you riding with us?" enquired Jagienka, as though awaking from sleep. "What do you say?"

"I forgot to tell you what my master commanded me to say to you. When I was about to depart from Spychow, he called me and said 'I bow at the feet of the young lady of Zgorzelice, for whether in good or bad fortune, I shall never forget her; and for what she did for my uncle and myself, may God recompense her, and keep her in good health.'"

"May God also recompense him for his good words," replied Jagienka.

Then she added, in such a wonderful tone, that it caused the Bohemian's heart to melt:

"And you, Hlawa."

The conversation ceased for a while. But the armor-bearer was glad for himself and for her words. For he said to himself: "At least it shall not be said that she has been fed with ingratitude." He also began to rack his brains for something more of the same nature to tell her; and after a moment he said:

"Lady."

"What?"

"This ... as it were ... I want to say, as the old _pan of Bogdaniec also said: 'That the lady there is lost forever, and that he will never find her, even if the grand master himself assist him.'"

"Then she is his wife...."

The Bohemian nodded his head.

"Yes, she is his wife."

Jagienka made no reply to this, but at home, after supper, when Jasko and the younger brother were put to bed, she ordered a pitcher of mead. Then she turned to the Bohemian and asked:

"Perhaps you want to retire. I wish to continue our conversation."

The Bohemian, although tired, was ready to chatter even till morning. So they began to talk, and he again related in general terms all that had happened to Zbyszko, Jurand, Danusia and himself.

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PART FIFTH: CHAPTER V The prince was the first to take the floor at the consultation and spoke as follows: "It is bad that we have no writing nor testimony against the counts. Although our suspicions may be justified, and I myself think that they and nobody else captured Jurand's daughter, still what of it? They will deny it. And if the grand master asks for proofs, what shall I show him? Bah! even Jurand's letter speaks in their favor." Here he turned to Zbyszko: "You say that they forced this letter from him with threats. It is possible, and undoubtedly
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