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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 3
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 3 Post by :mimiabas Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :2337

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 6 - Chapter 3

PART SIXTH: CHAPTER III

>After the destruction, conflagration and slaughter which the Knights of the Cross had committed in 1331, at Sieradz, Casimir the Great rebuilt the razed town. The place, however, was not exceedingly splendid and could not keep pace with the other towns of the realm. But Jagienka, who hitherto had spent her time among the people of Zgorzelice and Krzesnia, was beside herself with admiration and astonishment at the sight of the houses, towers, town hall, and especially the churches; the wooden structure at Krzesnia could not be compared with them. At first she lost her wonted resolution, so much so that she dared not talk aloud, and only inquired of Macko in a whisper about those wonderful things which dazzled her eyes. But when the old knight assured her that there was as much difference between Sieradz and Krakow as there is between a firebrand and the sun, she would not believe her own ears, because it appeared to her an impossibility that another city could be found in the world which could be equal to Sieradz.

They were received in the cloister by the same shriveled old prior, who still remembered in his childhood the butchery by the Knights of the Cross, and who had previously received Zbyszko. The news of the abbot occasioned them sorrow and trouble; he lived in the cloister for a long while, but he left a fortnight before their arrival to visit his friend, the bishop of Plock. He was constantly ill. He was generally conscious in the morning; but toward the evening he lost his head, he stormed and he asked to put on a coat of mail, and challenged Prince John of Racibor. The clergy were obliged to apply force to keep him in bed; that was not accomplished without considerable trouble and even much risk. About a fortnight ago he had entirely lost his reason, and in spite of his serious illness, he had given orders to be taken to Plock immediately.

"He said that he confided in nobody so much as in the bishop of Plock, and that he wished to receive the sacrament from him alone and leave his testament with him. We opposed his journey as much as we could, for he was very faint, and we feared that he would not survive even one mile's journey. But to oppose him was not an easy task. So the attendants prepared a wagon and carried him away. May God direct it to a happy issue."

"If he had died somewhere near Sieradz you would have heard of it," said Macko.

"We would have surely heard of it," replied the little old prior. "We therefore are of opinion that he did not die, and we think that he had not yet when he reached Lenczyca. What may have happened beyond that place, we are unable to tell. You will get information on the road if you go after him."

Macko felt uneasy when he received the tidings, and he went to take counsel with Jagienka, who had already got information from the Bohemian whither the abbot had gone.

"What is to be done?" he asked her; "and what are you going to do with yourself?"

"Come to Plock, and I will go with you."

"To Plock!" repeated Sieciechowa, in a piping voice.

"Look how things go! Is it as easy for you to go to Flock as to handle the sickle?"

"How can I and Sieciechowa return by ourselves? If I cannot continue my journey with you, it would have been preferable to have remained at home. Do you not think that Wilk and Cztan will be more obstinate in their intrigues against me?"

"Wilk will protect you against Cztan."

"I fear Wilk's protection as much as Cztan's open violence. I see that you too are opposing me; if it were only simple opposition I should not mind it, but not when it is in earnest."

Indeed Macko's opposition was not in earnest; on the contrary he preferred that Jagienka should accompany him, than return, so when he heard her words, he smiled and said:

"She has got rid of her petticoats, and now she wants reason too."

"Reason is only to be found in the head."

"But Plock is out of the way."

"The Bohemian said that it is not out of the way, but it is nearer to Malborg."

"Then you have already consulted the Bohemian?"

"Surely; moreover, he said: 'If the young lord got into trouble at Malborg, then we could get much help from Princess Alexandra, for she is a relative of the king; besides that, being a personal friend of the Knights of the Cross, she has great influence among them.'"

"It is true, as God is dear to me!" exclaimed Macko. "It is a fact well known to all, that if she wished to give us a letter to the master we could travel with perfect safety in all lands of the Knights of the Cross. They love her because she loves them. That Bohemian boy is not a fool, his advice is good."

"And how much so!" Sieciechowa exclaimed with warmth, lifting up her little eyes.

Macko suddenly turned toward her and said:

"What do you want here?"

The girl became much confused, lowered her eyelashes and blushed like a rose.

However, Macko saw that there was no other remedy but to continue his journey and take both girls with him. This he much desired. The following morning he took leave of the little old prior and then they continued their journey. Owing to the thawing of the snow and inundations they progressed with greater difficulty than before. On the road they inquired after the abbot, and they found many courts, and parsonages, where there were none of the former, even inns, where he had remained for a night's lodging. It was quite easy to follow in his track, because he had lavishly distributed alms, bought missals, contributed to church bells and subscribed to funds for the repair of churches. Therefore every beggar, sexton, yea even every priest they met remembered him with gratitude. They generally said: "He traveled like an angel," and prayed for his recovery, although here and there were heard more expressions of apprehension that his everlasting rest was drawing nigh, than hopes of temporary recovery. In some places he had taken supplies enough for two or three days. It seemed to Macko that most likely he would be able to overtake him.

Yet Macko was mistaken in his calculations. The overflow of the rivers Ner and Bzur prevented them from arriving at Lenczyca. They were obliged to take up their quarters for four days at a deserted inn, whose owner apparently had fled on account of the threatening floods. The road leading from the inn to the town which to a certain extent was repaired with stumps of trees was submerged for a considerable stretch in the muddy flood. Macko's servant, Wit, a native of that locality, had some knowledge of the road leading through the woods, but he refused to act as guide, because he knew that the marshes of Lenczyca were the rendezvous of unclean spirits, especially the powerful Borut who delighted in leading people to bottomless swamps, whence escape was only possible by forfeiture of the soul. Even the inn itself was held in bad repute, so that travelers used to provision themselves with victuals to avoid hunger. Even old Macko was scared of this place. During the night they heard skirmishing upon the roof of the inn; at times there were also rappings at the door. Jagienka and Sieciechowa, who slept in the alcove near the large room, also heard the sound of little footsteps upon the ceiling and walls during the night-time. They were apparently not afraid of it, because at Zgorzelice they were accustomed to croaking birds. Old Zych, in his time, fed them, according to the then prevailing custom there were not wanting those who would provide them with crusts, and they were not mischievous. But on a certain night, from the neighboring thickets resounded a dull ominous bellowing, and the following morning they discovered huge cloven-foot traces upon the mud. They might have been of aurochs or bison, but Wit was of opinion that the traces were those of Borut, and although his outward appearance is that of a man, even of a nobleman, he has cloven instead of human feet. But owing to parsimony he takes off his boots when crossing the swamps. Macko was informed that one could appease him with drink; he considered during the whole day whether it would be sinful to gain the friendship of the evil spirit. He even took counsel with Jagienka on the same subject.

"I should like to suspend upon the fence a bull's bladder full of wine or mead," he said, "and if it were found that something of the drink were missing, then it would be conclusive proof that the evil spirit was present."

"But that might displease the heavenly powers," replied Jagienka, "of whose blessing we stand in need to assist us in succoring Zbyszko successfully."

"I, too, am afraid, but I think that a little mead is not the soul. I shall not give him my soul. One bladder full of wine or mead, I think, is of little significance in the eyes of the heavenly powers!"

Then he lowered his voice and added:

"One nobleman entertains another even if he is a useless fellow, and they say he is a nobleman."

"Who?" asked Jagienka.

"I do not want to mention the name of the unclean spirit."

Nevertheless, Macko, with his own hands suspended the same evening a large bull's bladder in which drink is usually carried, and it was found empty the following morning.

When that was related to the Bohemian, he laughed heartily, but nobody paid attention to it. Macko, however, was filled with joy, because he expected that when he should attempt to cross the swamp no mishap would occur on that account.

"Unless they told an untruth when they said that he knows honor," he said to himself.

Above all things it was necessary to investigate if there was a passage through the woods. It might have been so, because where the soil was made firm by the roots of the trees and other growths, it did not easily soften by the rains; although Wit, who belonged in the locality, could best perform that service, he refused to go, and when his name was suggested, he shouted: "Better kill me. I shall not go."

Then they explained to him that the unclean spirits are powerless during the daytime. Macko himself was willing to go, but it was finally arranged that Hlawa should venture, because he was a bold fellow, agreeable to all, specially to the ladies. He put an axe in his belt, and in his hand a scythe, and left.

He left early in the morning and was expected to return about noon, but he did not, and they began to be alarmed. Later on, the servants were watching at the edge of the forest, and in the afternoon Wit waved his hand as a sign that Hlawa had not returned, and should he return the danger is greater for us, for God knows whether, owing to a wolf's bite, he is not transformed into a werewolf. Hearing this, all were frightened; even Macko was not himself. Jagienka turned toward the forest and made the sign of the cross. But Anulka searched in vain in her skirt and apron for something with which to cover her eyes, but finding nothing she covered them with her fingers, from between which tears began to trickle in big drops.

However, toward evening time, just at the spot where the sun was about to set, the Bohemian appeared, and that, not by himself, but accompanied by a human figure whom he drove in front of him on a rope. All rushed out toward him with shouts of joy. But at the sight of the figure they became silent; it was dwarfed, monkey-like, hairy, black and dressed in wolf skin.

"In the name of the Father and Son tell me; what is this figure you have brought," shouted Macko.

"How do I know?" replied the Bohemian. "He said that he was a man and a pitch-burner, but I don't know whether he told me the truth."

"Oh, he is not a man, no," said Wit.

But Macko ordered him to be quiet; then he looked carefully around him and suddenly said:

"Cross yourself. We are accustomed to cross ourselves when with the spirits...."

"Praised be Jesus Christ!" exclaimed the prisoner, and crossed himself as fast as he could. He breathed deeply, looked with great confidence at the group and said:

"Praised be Jesus Christ. I too, O Jesus, was uncertain whether I was in Christian or in the devil's power."

"Fear not, you are among Christians, who attend the holy Mass. What are you then?"

"I am a pitch-burner, sir, dwelling in a tent. There are seven of us who dwell in tents with our families."

"How far are you from here?"

"Not quite ten furlongs."

"How do you get to town?"

"We have our private road along the 'Devil's Hollow.'"

"Along what? The Devil's?... then cross yourself again."

"In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen."

"Very well. Is that road practicable for vehicles?"

"Now there is quagmire everywhere, although there is less near the Hollow than upon the regular road; owing to the access of the wind the mud is quickly dried up. But farther on to Buda the road is bad. But those who know the track push through it slowly."

"Will you lead us for a florin or two?"

The pitch-burner accepted the offer willingly, but begged for half a loaf of bread, which he said is very scarce in the woods and he had seen none for some time past. It was arranged that they should start very early the next morning, because it was "not good to travel in the evening," he said. "There at Boruca ghosts storm terribly, but they do no harm. But being jealous for the Lenczyca principality they chase away other devils into the bushes. It is only bad to meet them during the night, especially when a man is drunk, but the sober need not be afraid."

"You were afraid nevertheless," said Macko.

"Because that knight unexpectedly grasped me with such strength that I took him for another being."

Then Jagienka smiled that all of them took the pitch-burner to be the devil, and he thought them to be the same. Anulka and Sieciechowa laughed at Macko's words, when he said:

"Your eyes are not yet dry from weeping for Hlawa; now you are laughing?"

The Bohemian looked at the girl, he observed her eyelids which were still moist, then he asked:

"Did you cry for me?"

"Of course not," replied the girl. "I was only scared."

"You ought to be ashamed. Are you not a noblewoman, and a noblewoman like your mistress is not afraid. Nothing evil could happen to you in the middle of the day, and among people."

"Nothing to me, but to you."

"Yet you said that you did not cry for me."

"I insist, not for you."

"Then why did you cry?"

"From fear."

"You are not afraid now?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because you have returned."

Then the Bohemian looked at her with gratitude, smiled, and said:

"Bah! If we kept on talking in that manner we might have continued till morning. What a smart woman you are!"

"Make no fun of me," quietly replied Sieciechowa. In fact she was as smart as any woman; and Hlawa who was himself a cunning fellow understood it well. He knew that the girl's attachment to him was daily increasing. He loved Jagienka, but the love was that of a subject for his king's daughter, and with great humility and reverence, and without any other motive. Meanwhile the journey brought him in closer contact with Sieciechowa. When on the march old Macko and Jagienka usually rode side by side in front, while Hlawa and Sieciechowa were together in the rear. He was as strong as a urus and hot-blooded, so that when looking straight into her lovely bright eyes, at her flaxen locks which escaped from under her bonnet, upon her whole slender and well-shaped figure, especially at her admirably shaped limbs gripping the black pony, his whole frame trembled. He could restrain himself no longer. The more he looked upon those charms the more intense and longing his gaze became. He involuntarily thought that if the devil were to assume the form of that girl he would have no difficulty in leading one into temptation. She was moreover of a sweet temperament, very obedient, and lively, like a sparrow upon the roof. Sometimes strange thoughts crossed the Bohemian's mind; once when he and Anulka remained somewhat in the rear near the packhorses, he suddenly turned toward her and said:

"Do you know I shall devour you here as a wolf devours a lamb."

She heartily laughed, and showed her pretty little white teeth.

"Do you want to eat me?" she asked.

"Yes I even with the little bones."

And he cast such a look at her that she melted under his glances. Then they lapsed into silence, only their hearts were beating intensely, his with desire, and hers with pleasurable intoxication tinged with fear.

But the Bohemian's passion at first entirely prevailed over his tenderness, and when he said that he looked at Anulka like a wolf at a lamb, he told the truth. Only on that evening when he observed her eyelids and cheeks moistened with tears, his heart became softened She seemed to him as good, as though near to him and as though she were already his own, and as he himself was upright by nature, and at the same time a knight, he not only was elated with pride, and not hardened at the sight of the sweet tears, but he courageously continued gazing at her. His wonted gaiety of conversation left him, and although he continued to jest in the evening with the timid girl, yet it was of a different nature. He treated her as a knightly armor-bearer ought to treat a noblewoman.

Old Macko was chiefly occupied in thinking of the journey, and the crossing of the swamps, and he only praised him for his noble manners which, as he observed, he must have learned when he was with Zbyszko at the Mazovian court.

Then he turned to Jagienka and added:

"Hey! Zbyszko!... His deportment befits even a king's presence."

But his work was over in the evening, when it was time to retire. Hlawa, after having kissed the hand of Jagienka, lifted in turn the hand of Sieciechowa to his lips and said:

"Not only need you not fear me, but whilst you are with me you need fear nothing, for I shall not give you to anybody."

Then the men went into the front room whilst Jagienka and Anulka retired to the alcove and slept together in a wide and comfortable bed. Neither fell asleep readily, especially Sieciechowa, who was restless and turned from side to side. At length Jagienka moved her head toward Anulka and whispered:

"Anulka?"

"What is it?"

"It seems to me that you are much taken with that Bohemian.... Is it so?"

Her question remained unanswered.

But Jagienka whispered again:

"I understand it all.... Tell me."

Sieciechowa did not reply, but instead, pressed her lips to the cheeks of her mistress and showered kisses upon them.

At Anulka's kisses, poor Jagienka's breast heaved.

"Oh, I understand, I understand," she whispered, so low that Anulka's ear scarcely caught her words.

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PART SIXTH: CHAPTER IV After a mild and foggy night, a windy and gloomy day came. At times the sky was bright, at others it was covered with broken clouds which were driven before the wind like flocks of sheep. Macko ordered the train to move by daybreak. The pitch-burner, who was hired as guide to Buda, affirmed that the horses could pass everywhere, but as to the wagons, provisions and baggage, it would be necessary in some places to take them apart and carry them piecemeal, and that could not be done without tedious work. But people accustomed to hard
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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
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