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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 2
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 2 Post by :eyalhalimi Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :2892

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 2

PART SIXTH: CHAPTER II

Macko prepared for his journey, and Jagienka did not show herself at Bogdaniec for two days after her consultation with the Bohemian. It was only on the third day that the old knight met her on his way to church. She was riding with her brother Jasiek to church at Krzesnia, and with her was a considerable number of armed servants in order to protect her from Cztan and Wilk, because she was not sure whether Cztan and Wilk were still sick or were planning to harm her.

"Any way, I intended to call upon our own people at Bogdaniec," she said, greeting Macko, "because I have to consult you about a very important affair, but since you are here we can talk about it now."

Then she advanced in front of the retinue, obviously to prevent the servants overhearing their conversation. When Macko was near her she inquired:

"Are you surely going?"

"If God will, not later than to-morrow."

"Are you going to Malborg?"

"To Malborg, or any other place, according to circumstances."

"Now then listen to me. I have thought a long time about what I ought to do. I want to ask your advice, too. You well know that as long as papa was alive, and the abbot was powerful, it was quite different. Cztan and Wilk also thought that I should choose one of them, so they kept their temper. But now I stand alone without a protector; then either I shall remain at Zgorzelice in a fortress, like a prisoner, or they will do us some harm without fail. Is it not so?"

"Yes," said Macko, "I thought of it myself."

"And what did you devise?"

"I devised nothing, but I must tell you one thing, that we are in Poland and the law of this country punishes severely those who are guilty of acts of violence."

"Very well, but the transgressors have no difficulty in crossing the frontier. Indeed, I know that Szlonsk is also in Poland, yet there the princes themselves quarrel and attack each other. If it were not so, my beloved father would still be alive. There are already Germans there and the times are stormy; they are mischievous, so that if any one of them wishes to conceal himself, he does. It would be easy for me to avoid Cztan and Wilk, but it concerns my little brother. If I should be absent there would be peace, but if I remained in Zgorzelice, God only knows what ill luck might happen. There would be outrages and fights; and Jasiek is already fourteen years old, and nobody, not even myself, can detain him. Upon the last occasion when you came to our assistance he flew to the front, and when Cztan used his club upon the crowd he nearly hit him on the head. 'O,' Jasko said to the servants, 'those two I will prosecute to the very end.' I tell you that there will not be a single peaceful day and some evil might befall the youngster."

"Faith. Cztan and Wilk are dog-brothers," said Macko, "although they would not dare lift up their hands against children. Bah! only a Knight of the Cross would do that."

"They will not lift up their hands against children, but in case of tumult, or, God forbid, in an incendiary fire, there will be no lack of accidents. Why talk! I love the brother of old Sieciechowa as my own parents, and protection for them from the dear old woman is not wanting, yet, without me ... would they be safer without me?"

"May be," replied Macko.

Then he looked slyly at the girl.

"Then, what do you want?"

And she replied in a low tone:

"Take me with you."

Then Macko, although he easily understood the drift of the conversation, was much surprised. He checked his horse, and exclaimed:

"Fear God, Jagienka."

But she dropped her head and replied bashfully and sadly:

"You may think so, but as far as myself is concerned, I would rather speak out than be silent. Hlawa and yourself said that Zbyszko will never find Danusia, and the Bohemian's hope of finding her is even less. God is my witness that I do not wish her evil in the least. Let the mother of God watch over that poor girl and keep her. Zbyszko loved her more than myself. Well, I cannot help it. Such is my lot. But observe this, so long as Zbyszko does not find her, or as you believe, he will never find her, then, then ..."

"What then?" asked Macko, seeing that the girl was getting more and more confused and stammering.

"Then I do not wish to be Madame Cztan, nor Madame Wilk, nor madame anybody."

Macko breathed freely.

"I thought that you had already forgiven him."

But she, still in a sad tone, replied: "Ah!..."

"Then what are your wishes? How can we take you among the Knights of the Cross?"

"Not exactly among the Knights of the Cross, I should like to be now with the abbot who is confined in the hospital at Sieradz. He has not a single friendly soul with him. The servants care more for the pitcher than they do for him. Moreover, he is my godfather and benefactor. If he were well I would have sought his protection all the same because the people fear him."

"I shall not dispute that," said Macko, who as a matter of fact, would be glad that Jagienka should not go with him, for he well knew the Knights of the Cross, and he was thoroughly convinced that Danuska would never come out alive from their hands. "But only this I tell you, that to travel with a girl is very troublesome."

"May be with others, but not with me. Nothing has occurred to me so far, but I am accustomed to go about with the bow and can endure hardship in the chase. When it is necessary, it is necessary. Don't be afraid. I shall take Jasiek's clothing and a net for my hair and I shall go. Jasiek, although younger than I am, with the exception of his hair looks exactly like myself, so much so that when we disguised ourselves last carnival our departed father could not tell one from the other. Observe, neither the abbot nor anybody else recognized me."

"Neither Zbyszko?"

"If I shall see him...."

Macko thought for a moment, then suddenly smiled and said:

"But Wilk of Brzozowa and Cztan of Rogow would be furious."

"Let them! It might be worse if they came after us."

"Well! Fear not. I am an old man, but let them beware of my fist. All the Gradys are of the same mettle!... However, they have already tested Zbyszko...."

Meanwhile they arrived at Krzesnia. Old Wilk of Brzozowa, who also happened to be at church, from time to time cast gloomy glances at Macko, but he did not mind it, and with a light heart he returned with Jagienka immediately after mass.... Then they took leave of each other and parted. When Macko was by himself at Bogdaniec, less happy thoughts passed through his mind. He understood that neither the people at Zgorzelice nor the relatives of Jagienka would really object to her departure. "But as to the girl's admirers," he said to himself, "that is quite another affair, but against the orphans and their property they would not dare to lift up their hand, because they would cover themselves with excessive infamy. Everybody would be against them as one is against a wolf. But Bogdaniec is left to God's favor!... The quarries will be filled up, the flocks will be seized, the peasants will be enticed away!... If God permit me to return, then I will fight them. I shall send out bans, and fight them not with the fist but with the law!... Only let me return, and if I do?... They will combine against me, because I have spoiled their love affair, and if she goes with me they will yet be more rancorous."

He was much grieved about his estate at Bogdaniec which he had improved. Now he felt sure that on his return he would find it desolate and in ruins.

"Now then, it is necessary to take counsel," he thought.

Accordingly, after dinner, he ordered his horse to be saddled and left directly for Brzozowa.

It was already dark when he arrived. Old Wilk was sitting in the front room drinking mead from a pitcher. Young Wilk, who was wounded by Cztan, was lying on a skin-covered bench, and was also drinking mead. Macko entered unexpectedly and remained standing upon the threshold with a stern look on his face; tall, bony, armed only with a big sabre at his side. They recognized him at once, because his face was lit up by the bright flame of the fireplace, and at the first moment, both the father and son jumped up, lightning-like, and running toward the wall seized the first arms that were at hand.

But the old experienced Macko, well knowing the people and their customs, did not interfere in the least, he did not even reach his hand to his sword. He only put his hands on his hips, and said quietly in a somewhat sarcastic voice:

"How is it? Is this the kind of hospitality which the nobles in Brzozowa practice?"

These words had the desired effect; their hands fell, and in a moment the old man let fall the sword with a clash, the young man dropped his pike, and they stood with their necks craned toward Macko, their faces still expressing hatred, but already amazed and ashamed of themselves.

Macko smiled and said:

"May the name of Christ be praised!"

"Forever and ever."

"And Saint Jerzy."

"We serve him."

"I come to visit my neighbors with good will."

"With good will we greet you, the guest of his holy person."

Then old Wilk rushed toward Macko, and with his son, both of them pressed his right hand, they made him sit at a comfortable place at the table; in a second they threw another log on the fireplace, spread the table and put upon it a dish full of food, a jug of beer, a pitcher of mead, and began to eat and drink. Young Wilk glanced now and then at Macko, which, happily for the guest, contributed to lessen his hatred against him. But he served him, however, so diligently that he became pale from fatigue, because he was wounded and deprived of his wonted strength. The father and son burned with curiosity to know the object of Macko's call. None, however, asked him why, but waited for him to speak.

But Macko, as a man of manners, praised the meat, drink and hospitality. Only when he had filled himself well, he looked up and spoke with dignity:

"People often quarrel. But neighborly peace above all."

"There is not a better thing than peace," replied old Wilk, with equal composure.

"It also often happens," said Macko, "when one wants to undertake a long journey, he wants to make up and bid good-bye even to his adversaries."

"God reward you for your candid words."

"Not mere words, but deeds, for I actually came to wish you good-bye."

"From our soul we wish you might visit us daily."

"I wish I could feast you in Bogdaniec in a manner suitable to people who are acquainted with knightly honor. But I am in a hurry to go."

"Is it to war, or to some holy place?"

"I should like to go to one of the two, but the place I am going to is worse, for I am going among the Knights of the Cross."

"Among the Knights of the Cross," exclaimed both father and son.

"Yes!" replied Macko. "And one who is their enemy is going to them. It is well for him to be reconciled with God and men, so that he may not forfeit, not only his life, but everlasting salvation."

"It is wonderful," said old Wilk. "I have never yet seen any man who has not suffered from their wrongs and oppression."

"So it is in the whole fatherland," added Macko. "Neither Lithuania before its conversion to Christianity, nor even the Tartars were such a burden to the Polish kingdom as those devilish monks."

"Quite true, but this you also know, they gathered and gathered. It is time now to finish with them."

Then the old man spat in his hands, and young Wilk added:

"It cannot be otherwise now."

"It will come to pass, surely, but when? We cannot do it, it is the king's affair. It may be soon or not ... God only knows. But meanwhile I must go to them."

"Is it not with ransom for Zbyszko?"

As his father mentioned Zbyszko's name young Wilk's face became pale with hatred.

But Macko replied quietly:

"May be with ransom but not for Zbyszko."

These words intensified the curiosity of both lords of Brzozowa. Old Wilk, who could no more contain himself, said:

"Can you tell us, or not, the reason for your going there?"

"I will tell you! I will!" he said, nodding assent, "but first let me tell you something else. Take notice then. After my departure Bogdaniec will be under God's care.... When Zbyszko and myself were fighting under Prince Witold, the abbot, also Zych of Zgorzelice, looked somewhat after our small property. Now we shall miss even that little. It pains me terribly to think that my endeavor and labor will be in vain.... You can well form an idea how much this troubles me. They will entice away my people, plough up the boundaries; they will take away my herds. Even should God permit me to return, I shall find my property ruined.... There is only one remedy, only one help ... good neighbor. For this reason I came to ask you as a neighbor that you would take Bogdaniec under your protection and see that no harm is done."

Listening to Macko's request, old Wilk and his son exchanged looks; both of them were amazed beyond measure. They were silent for a moment, and neither could muster courage enough to reply. But Macko lifted another cup of mead to his mouth, drank it, then continued his conversation in as quiet and confiding a manner as though the two had been his most intimate friends for years.

"I have told you candidly from whom most damage is expected. It is from no other quarter but from Cztan of Rogow. Although we were hostile to each other, I fear nothing from you because you are noble people who would face your adversaries, yet would not revenge yourselves by acting meanly. You are quite different. A knight is always a knight. But Cztan is a _prestak (churl). From such a fellow anything might be expected, as you know. He is very bitter against me because I spoiled his game with Jagienka."

"Whom you reserve for your nephew," burst out young Wilk.

Macko looked at him and held him under his cold gaze for a moment, then he turned to the old man and said quietly:

"You know, my nephew married a rich Mazovian proprietress and took considerable dower." Silence more profound than before again reigned for a while. Both father and son gazed at Macko with their mouths wide open, for some time.

Finally the old man said:

"O! how is that? Tell us...."

Macko appeared not to notice the question and continued:

"This is the very reason why I must go, and why I also ask you, as worthy and upright neighbors, to take care of Bogdaniec when I go, and see to it that nobody damages my property. Have your eye especially upon Cztan and protect me against him."

During that time young Wilk, who was quick to understand, reflected that since Zbyszko had got married it would be better to be in friendship with Macko, because Jagienka confided in him, and did nothing without asking his advice. Thus new prospects suddenly presented themselves before his eyes. "It is not enough, we must not only not oppose Macko, but endeavor to be reconciled with him," he said to himself. Therefore, although he was somewhat under the influence of drink, he quickly stretched his hand under the table and grasped his father's knee and pressed it vigorously as a sign for his father to be careful in his speech, but said himself:

"Ay! we do not fear Cztan! Let him only try. He wounded me with the platter, true, but I too have given him such a sound drubbing that his own mother could not recognize him. Fear nothing! Be at your ease. Not even one crow shall be lost at Bogdaniec!"

"I see you are upright people. Do you promise me?"

"We promise!" both exclaimed.

"Upon your knightly honor?"

"Upon knightly honor."

"And upon your escutcheon?"

"Upon the escutcheon; yea, upon the cross too. So help us God!"

Macko smiled with satisfaction, and said:

"Well, this is now with you, and I am confident you will do it. If so, let me tell you something more. Zych, as you know, appointed me guardian of his children. I have, therefore, spoiled both Cztan's incursions and your young man at Zgorzelice. But now when I arrive at Malborg, or, God knows where, what then will become of my guardianship?... It is true, that God is a father of the fatherless; and woe to him who shall attempt to harm her; not only will I chop off his head with an axe, but also proclaim him an infamous scoundrel. Nevertheless I feel very sorry to part, sorry indeed. Then promise me I pray, that you will not only yourself not do any harm to Zych's orphans, but see too that others do not harm them."

"We swear! We swear!"

"Upon your knightly honor and your escutcheon?"

"Upon knightly honor and escutcheon."

"Also upon the cross?"

"Upon the cross too."

"God hears it. Amen," concluded Macko, and he breathed deeply, because he was sure that they would not break such an oath. Even if they were provoked they would rather gnaw their fists with anger than perjure themselves.

Then he began to take leave, but they insisted upon his remaining. He was obliged to drink and fraternize with old Wilk. But young Wilk, contrary to his custom to look for quarrels when drunk, this time limited his anger to threats against Cztan, and ran around Macko so assiduously as though he were to obtain Jagienka from Macko the following morning. Toward midnight he fainted from over-exertion, and after they revived him, he fell asleep like a log. Old Wilk followed the example of his son, so that when Macko left them they were lying under the table like corpses. Yet Macko himself had an extraordinary head and was not so much affected by the drink, but was cheerful. When he returned home he reflected with joy upon what he had accomplished.

"Well!" he said to himself, "Bogdaniec is safe and so is Zgorzelice. They will be raging when they hear of Jagienka's departure. But she and my property are safe. The Lord Jesus has endowed men with skill, so that when one cannot make use of his fist, he uses his mind. The old man will surely challenge me when I return home, but it is not worth while to think about it.... Would to God that I might entrap the Knights of the Cross in such manner.... But it will be a difficult task with them. With us, even when one has an affair with a 'dog brother,' nevertheless if he takes an oath on his knightly honor and escutcheon he will keep it. But with them an oath has no value; it is like spitting upon the water. But may the mother of Jesus assist me, that I may be as serviceable to Zbyszko as I have been to Zychow's children, and Bogdaniec...."

Here, it crossed his mind, that perhaps it might be advisable not to take Jagienka, because the two Wilks would care for her as the apple of their eye. But the next moment he rejected that plan. "The Wilks might care for her, true, but Cztan will persist in his attempts, and God knows who will prevail. But it is a sure thing that there will be a succession of fights and outrages from which Zgorzelice, Zych's orphans, and even the girl might suffer. It will be an easy matter for Wilk to guard Bogdaniec. But by all means it will be better for the girl to be as far away from the two murderers as possible, and at the same time to be as near the rich abbot as possible. Macko firmly believed that Danusia would never be rescued from the Knights of the Cross, alive. And the hope that Zbyszko would return home as a widower and most likely take to Jagienka, never left him."

"Ah! Mighty God!" he said to himself. "In such a case he will be the owner of Spychow, then he will get Jagienka and Moczydoly, and in addition to it he will acquire that which the abbot will bequeath. I would not even spare him wax for candles."

Occupied with such thoughts, the road from Brzozowa seemed to be shortened, yet he arrived at Bogdaniec after nightfall, and was surprised to see his windows brightly illuminated. The servants, too, were awake, for he had scarcely entered the courtyard when the stable boy came rushing to him.

"Are there some guests?" asked Macko, dismounting.

"There is the young gentleman of Zgorzelice with the Bohemian," replied the stable boy.

This information astonished Macko, for Jagienka had promised to arrive next day, very early, when they were to start immediately. Then, why had Jasko come and that so late? It struck the old knight that something must have occurred at Zgorzelice, and he entered his house with a certain amount of anxiety. But within he found a bright fire burning in the large clay oven in the centre of the room. And upon the table were two iron cradles and two torches in them, by which light Macko observed Jasko, the Bohemian, Hlawa, and another young servant with a face as red as an apple.

"How are you, Jasko? and what is the matter with Jagienka?" asked the old nobleman.

"Jagienka ordered me to tell you," he said, whilst kissing Macko's hand, "that she has reconsidered the matter and she prefers to stay at home."

"For God's sake! What do you say? How? What has happened to her?"

But the boy looked at him with his beautiful blue eyes and smiled.

"What are you prating about?"

But at this moment, the Bohemian and the other boy also burst out laughing.

"You see!" exclaimed the disguised boy. "Who could recognize me. You even have failed to recognize me!"

Then Macko looked at the lovely figure carefully and exclaimed:

"In the name of the Father and Son! It is a true carnival! You also here, croaking thing. Why?"

"Yes! Why? Those who are on the road have no time to lose."

"Is it not to-morrow at dawn, that you were to leave?"

"Certainly! to-morrow at dawn, so that all may know. To-morrow they will think at Zgorzelice that I am your guest, and they will not notice it till the day after to-morrow. Sieciechowa and Jasiek know it. But Jasko promised, upon knightly honor, that he will tell only then, when the people begin to be restless. How is it you did not recognize me?"

Now it was Macko's turn to laugh.

"Let me have a good look at you; you are an excessively fine boy!... and singularly so. From such one might expect to raise a good breed.... I justly declare, if this fellow were, (pointing at himself) were not old,--well! But, even thus I tell you, keep off, girl, from creeping under my eyes, stand back!..."

And he began to threaten her with his finger, but looked at her with much pleasure. Because such a girl he never saw before. Upon her head she had a silken red net, and a yellow jacket upon her body and the breeches ample round her hips and tighter above them, of which one little leg was of the same color as the cap (net) upon her head, the other had longwise stripes, with a richly covered little sword at her side, smiling and bright like the dawn. Her face was so exquisite that he could not take his eyes off her.

"My God!" said the overjoyed Macko. "She looks like some marvelous young lady or like a flower, or something else!"

"And this one here--I am sure it must also be somebody in disguise?"

"This is Sieciechowa," answered Jagienka. "It would be improper for me to be alone among you. How could I? Therefore I have taken Anulka(111) with me so that two courageous women will be of help and service. Her also, nobody can recognize."

(Footnote 111: The diminutive of Anna.)

 

"There, old woman, you have a marriage feast. One is bad enough, now there will be two."

"Don't tease."

"I am not teasing, but everybody will recognize you and her, in the daytime."

"Pray, and why?"

"In order to go on their knees to you and to her also."

"O, give us peace!..."

"You shall have it, I am not in a hurry. But will Cztan or Wilk let you have peace? God knows. Do you know, birdie, where I have just been? Why, at Brzozowa."

"For God's sake! What are you saying?"

"It is true as truth itself that the Wilks protect Bogdaniec and Zgorzelice against Cztan. Well, it is an easy matter to challenge an enemy and fight him. But to make your enemy into a protector of your own property is a very difficult task."

Then Macko related his adventures with the Wilks, how they had become reconciled to each other. How he had got advantage over them; to this she listened with the greatest wonder, and when he concluded she said:

"The Lord Jesus did not stint you in craftiness, and I observe that you will always be successful in your undertakings."

But Macko shook his head, as though he felt sorry.

"Ay, daughter! If that were so, you would have long ago become the lady of Bogdaniec!"

Upon hearing that, Jagienka looked at him with her lovely blue eyes for a moment, then she approached him, and kissed his hand.

"Why do you kiss me?" inquired the old knight.

"Nothing.... I only wish to bid you goodnight, because it is getting late and to-morrow we must get up early for our journey."

She then embraced Sieciechowa and left, and Macko led the Bohemian to his room, where they stretched themselves upon aurochs' skins and both fell sound asleep.

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