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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 5
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 5 Post by :Starbiz Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :1970

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 5

PART EIGHTH: CHAPTER V

It was not until the end of the ninth day after Jagienka's departure that Zbyszko reached the frontier of Spychow, but Danusia was already so near death that he entirely lost all hope of bringing her alive to her father.

On the following day, when she began to be incoherent in her replies, he observed that not only her mind was out of order, but that she was also suffering from a certain malady against which that childlike frame, exhausted by so much suffering, prison, torture and continuous fright, could not fight. Perhaps the noise of the fight of Macko and Zbyszko with the Germans contributed to fill her cup of terror, and it was just about that time that she was taken ill with that malady. Suffice it to say that the fever never left her from that moment until they reached the end of the journey. So far it was successfully accomplished, because throughout the terrible wilderness, in the midst of great troubles, Zbyszko carried her as though she were dead. When they left the wilderness and reached inhabited regions, among farmers and nobles, trouble and danger ceased. When the people were informed that he carried one of their own daughters whom he had rescued from the Knights of the Cross, especially when they knew that she was the daughter of the famous Jurand, of whose exploits the minstrels sang in the villages, hamlets, and huts, they vied with each other in rendering help and service. They procured proper horses and supplies. All doors stood open for them. It was no more necessary for Zbyszko to carry her in a cradle when the strong young men carried her from one village to another in a litter. They carried her as carefully as though she were a saint. The women surrounded her with the most tender care. The men, upon hearing the account of her wrongs, gnashed their teeth, and not a few put on the steel cuirass, grasped the sword, axe, or lance and went along with Zbyszko, in order to take revenge with interest. Because, the valiant race considered even retribution, wrong for wrong, insufficient.

But revenge did not then occupy Zbyszko's mind; his only thought was for Danusia. He lived between flashes of hope when there were momentary signs of improvement, and gloomy despair when she got worse, and as far as her latter condition was concerned, he could not deceive himself. A superstitious thought struck him more than once at the beginning of the journey, that there was, somewhere in the pathless regions they were passing, death, riding along with them, step by step, lying in wait for the moment when he might fall upon Danusia and wring from her the last breath of life. That vision or feeling became especially pronounced at dark midnight, so much so, that more than once he was seized with a despairing desire to return and challenge death to a combat to a finish, in the same fashion as knights are wont to do toward each other. But at the end of the journey it became worse, because he felt that death was not following them, but was in the very midst of the retinue; invisible truly, but so near that its cold breath could be felt. Then he understood that against such an enemy, courage, strength and arms are counted as nothing and that he would be obliged to surrender the most precious head as a prey without even a struggle.

And that was a most terrible feeling, because it roused within him a tempestuous, irresistible sorrow, a sorrow, bottomless as the sea. Could therefore Zbyszko restrain himself from groaning, could his heart remain unbroken by pain, when he looked at his most beloved? He spoke to her as in terms of involuntary reproach: "Was it for this that I loved you? Was it for this that I searched and rescued you in order that you should be put under ground to-morrow and I should never see you again?" Then he would look at her cheeks which glowed with fever, at her expressionless and dull eyes, and ask her again:

"Are you going to leave me? Are you not sorry for it? You prefer going to staying with me." Then he thought that something was happening in his own head, and his breast swelled with immense sadness which seared it, but he could not give vent to his feeling with tears, because of a certain feeling of anger and hatred against that compassionless power which was consuming the innocent, blind, and cold child. If that wicked enemy, the Knight of the Cross, were present, he would have fallen upon him and torn him to pieces like a wild beast.

When they arrived at the forest court, he wished to halt, but as it was the spring season the court was deserted. There he was informed by the keepers that the princely pair had gone to their brother, Prince Ziemowita, at Plock. He therefore resolved, instead of going to Warsaw where the court physician might have given her some relief, to go to Spychow. That plan was terrible, because it seemed to him that all was over with her and that he would not be able to bring her alive to Jurand.

But just as they were only a few hours distant from Spychow the brightest ray of hope shone again in his heart. Danuska's cheeks became paler, her eyes were less troubled, her breathing not so loud and quick. Zbyszko had observed it immediately, and had given orders to stop, so that she might rest and breathe undisturbed.

It was only about three miles from the inhabited part of Spychow, upon a narrow road winding between fields and meadows. They stopped near a wild pear-tree whose branches served to the sick as a protection from the rays of the sun. The men dismounted and unbridled their horses so as to facilitate their grazing. Two women, who were hired to attend Danusia and the youths who carried her, fatigued with the road and heat, lay down in the shade and slept. Only Zbyszko remained watching near the litter and sat close by upon the roots of the pear-tree, not taking his eyes off her even for a moment.

She lay in the midst of the afternoon silence, her eyelids closed. It seemed to Zbyszko that she was not asleep,--when at the other end of the meadow a man who was mowing hay stopped and began to sharpen his scythe loudly upon the hone. Then she trembled a little and opened her eyelids for a moment, but immediately closed them again. Her breast heaved as though she was deeply inspiring, and in a hardly audible voice she whispered:

"Flowers smell sweetly...."

These were the first words, clear and free from fever, spoken since they had left, because the breeze really wafted from the sun-warmed meadow a strong, redolent hay and honey perfume, fragrant with the scent of herbs. This caused Zbyszko to think that reason had returned to her. His heart trembled within him for joy. He wished to throw himself at her feet at the first impulse. But fearing lest that might frighten her, he desisted. He only knelt in front of the litter, and bending over her, said in a whisper:

"Dear Danusia! Danusia!"

She opened her eyes again, and looked at him for a while. Then a smile brightened up her face, the same as when she was in the tar-burner's shanty, but far from consciousness, but she pronounced his name:

"Zbyszko!..."

She attempted to stretch her hands toward him, but owing to her great weakness she was unable to do it. But he embraced her, his heart was so full that it seemed as if he were thanking her for some great favor he had received.

"I praise the Lord," he said, "you have awoke ... O God...." Now his voice failed him, and they looked at each other for some time in silence. That silence was only interrupted by the gentle wind which moved the leaves of the pear-tree, the chirping of the grasshoppers among the grass and the distant indistinct song of the mower.

It seemed as though her consciousness was gradually increasing, for she continued to smile and had the appearance of a sleeping child seeing angels in its dream. Little by little her face assumed an air of astonishment.

"Oh! where am I?" she cried. He was so much overcome with joy that he uttered numerous short and abrupt questions.

"Near Spychow. You are with me, and we are going to see dear papa. Your sorrow is ended. Oh! my darling Danusia, I searched for you and rescued you. You are no more in the power of the Germans. Be not afraid. We shall soon be at Spychow. You were ill, but the Lord Jesus had mercy upon you. There was so much sorrow, so many tears! Dear Danusia. Now, everything is well. There is nothing but happiness for you. Ah I how much did I search for you!... How far did I wander!... Oh! Mighty God!... Oh!..."

He sighed deeply and groaned as though he had thrown off the last heavy burden of suffering from his breast.

Danusia lay quiet trying to recall something to her mind and reflecting upon something. Then finally she asked:

"So, you cared for me?"

Two tears which were gathering in her eyes slowly rolled down her cheeks upon the pillow.

"I, not care for you?" cried Zbyszko.

There was something more powerful in that smothered exclamation than in the most vehement protestations and oaths, because he had always loved her with his whole soul. And from the moment when he had recovered her she had become more dear to him than the whole world.

Silence reigned again. The distant singing of the mowing peasant ceased and he began to whet his scythe again.

Danusia's lips moved again, but with such a low whisper that Zbyszko could not hear it. He therefore bent over her and asked:

"What do you say, darling?"

But she repeated:

"Sweet smelling blossoms."

"Because we are near the meadows," he replied. "But we shall soon proceed and go to dear papa, whom we have also rescued from captivity, and you shall be mine even unto death. Do you hear me well? Do you understand me?"

Then he suddenly became alarmed, for he observed that her face was gradually paling and was thickly covered with perspiration.

"What ails you?" he asked in great alarm.

And he felt his hair bristling and frost creeping through his bones.

"What ails you, tell me," he repeated.

"It darkens," she whispered.

"It darkens? Why, the sun shines and you say: 'it darkens'?" he said with a suppressed voice. "Up to this time you have spoken rationally. In God's name I beseech you, speak, even if it is only one word."

She still moved her lips, but she was unable even to whisper. Zbyszko guessed that she tried to pronounce his name and that she called him. Immediately afterward, her emaciated hands began to twitch and flutter upon the rug covering her. That lasted only for a moment. No doubt was left now that she had expired.

Horrified and in despair, Zbyszko began to beg her, as though his entreaties could avail:

"Danuska! Oh, merciful Jesus!... Only wait till we come to Spychow! Wait! Wait, I beseech you! Oh, Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"

The appeal awoke the sleeping women, and the men who were stretched with the horses upon the lawn came running. They guessed at a glance what had happened; they knelt down and began loudly to recite the litany.

The breeze ceased, even the leaves upon the pear-tree did not rustle. Only the voices reciting the litany sounded throughout that profound silence.

Danusia opened her eyes once more at the very end of the litany, as though she wished to look upon Zbyszko and upon the sunlit world for the last time. Then she lapsed into an everlasting sleep.

* * * * *

The women closed her eyelids; then they went to the meadow to gather flowers. The men followed them in file. Thus they walked in the sunshine among the luxuriant grass and had the appearance of field spirits bowing now and then, and weeping, for their hearts were filled with pity and sorrow. Zbyszko was kneeling in the shade beside the litter, with his head upon Danusia's knees, speechless and motionless, as if he too were dead. But the gatherers kept on plucking here and there, marigolds, buttercups, bellflowers and plenty of red and white sweet-smelling little blossoms. They also found in the small moist hollows in the meadow, lilies of the valley, and upon the margin near the fallow ground, they got St. John's wort until they had gathered their arms full. Then they sadly surrounded the litter and began to adorn it, until they had covered the dead with flowers and herbs; they only left the face uncovered, which in the midst of the bellflowers and lilies looked white, peaceful, calm, as in eternal sleep, serene, and quite angelic.

The distance to Spychow was less than three miles. Then, when they had shed copious tears of sorrow and pain, they carried the litter toward the forest where Jurand's domains began.

The men led the horses in front of the retinue. Zbyszko himself carried the litter upon his head, and the women loaded with the surplus of the bunches of flowers and herbs, sang hymns. They moved very slowly along the herb-covered meadows and the grey fallow fields and had the appearance of a funeral procession. Not a cloudlet marred the blue clear sky, and the region warmed itself in the golden rays of the sun.

The further adventures of Zbyszko will be found in a subsequent volume.

 

(THE END)
Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel: The Knights of the Cross

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