The Knights of the Cross
by Henryk Sienkiewicz
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"Yes, it is he. He hung himself with the bridle."

"Did you say by himself?"

"It seems so, because the saddle lies alongside him, and if there were robbers they would have killed him outright and made off with the saddle, because it is valuable."

"Shall we proceed?"

"Let us not go that way! No!" cried Anula Sieciechowna, afraid. "Something evil might happen to us!"

Jagienka was also somewhat afraid, because she believed that the body of a suicide is surrounded by crowds of evil spirits. But Hlawa, who was fearless and bold, said:

"Bah! I was near him, and even pushed him with the lance, and do not feel any devil upon my neck."

"Do not blaspheme!" cried Jagienka.

"I am not blaspheming," replied the Bohemian, "I only trust in God's power. Nevertheless, if you are afraid we will go around it."

Sieciechowna begged him to do so; but Jagienka, having reflected for a moment, said:

"It is not proper to leave the dead unburied. It is a Christian act commanded by the Lord. Anyhow it is the body of a man."

"Yes, but it is the body of a Knight of the Cross, a hangman and executioner! Let the crows and wolves occupy themselves with his body."

"It was not specified. God will judge for his sins, but we must do our duty; and if we fulfil God's commandment nothing evil will befall us."

"Well, then, let it be done according to your wishes," replied the Bohemian.

Accordingly he gave the order to the servants, who were reluctant. But they feared Hlawa, to oppose whom was a dangerous thing. Not having the necessary spades to dig a hole in the ground, they therefore gathered pitchforks and axes for that purpose and left. The Bohemian also went with them and to give them an example, he crossed himself and cut with his own hands the leather strap upon which the body was hanging.

Zygfried's face had become blue whilst hanging; he had an awful appearance, because his eyes were open and terror-stricken, his mouth was also open as though in the act of trying to catch his last breath. They quickly dug a pit near by and pushed therein the corpse of Zygfried with the handles of their pitchforks; they laid him with his face downward and covered it first with dust, then they gathered stones and placed them upon it, because it was an immemorial custom to cover the graves of suicides with stones; otherwise they would come out during the night and frighten the passers-by.

As there were many stones upon the road and under the mosses, the grave was soon covered with a considerable mound. Then Hlawa cut a cross with his axe upon the trunk of the pine-tree near. He did that, not for Zygfried, but to prevent evil spirits from gathering at that place. Then he returned to the retinue.

"His soul is in hell and his body is already in the ground," he said to Jagienka. "We can travel now."

They started; but Jagienka, whilst passing along, took a small branch of pine-tree and pressed it upon the stones. Then everybody of the train followed the example of the lady. That, too, had been an old custom.

They traveled for a long while absorbed in thought, thinking of that wicked monk and knight. Finally Jagienka said:

"God's justice cannot be escaped. It does not even permit the prayer, 'Everlasting rest'[118] to be offered up because there is no mercy for him."

"You have shown by your order to bury him that you possess a compassionate soul," replied the Bohemian.

Then he spoke hesitatingly: "People talk. Bah! maybe they are not people, but witches and wizards—that a halter or a strap taken from the hanging body secures to the possessor certain luck in everything. But I did not take the strap from Zygfried, because I wish that your luck should proceed from the Lord Jesus and not from necromancers."

Jagienka did not reply to that at once, but after awhile she sighed several times and said as it were to herself:

"Hey! My happiness is behind, not in front of me."


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:


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.


[Footnote 1: The Benedictine Abbey at Tyniec was in Poland as important and rich, relatively, as the Abbey of Saint-Germain des Pres in France. In those times the order organized by Saint Benoit (Benedictus) was the most important factor in the civilization and material prosperity of the country. The older contained 17,000 abbeys. From it came 24 Popes; 200 Cardinals; 1,600 Archbishops; 4,000 Bishops; 15,000 Writers; 1,500 Saints; 5,000 Beatified; 43 Emperors, and 44 Kings. These figures are material facts showing the importance of the order. About its influence on art, literature and culture one could write a volume.]

[Footnote 2: Two powerful families.]

[Footnote 3: Lithuania.]

[Footnote 4: Historical fact.]

[Footnote 5: Prince.]

[Footnote 6: Lithuanian.]

[Footnote 7: Money—it is difficult to tell the value exactly.]

[Footnote 8: Bishop.]

[Footnote 9: Priests.]

[Footnote 10: An exclamation of trifling.]

[Footnote 11: Prince Kiejstut's daughter.]

[Footnote 12: Slave minstrels.]

[Footnote 13: A kind of guitar.]

[Footnote 14: The names of the noblemen of every country are derived from the estates which they possess—hence the particles before the name of a true nobleman: de in France, for instance, de Nevers, means that the name comes from the place called Nevers; of in England, for instance, Duke of Manchester; von in Germany has the same signification; in Poland z, for instance Macko z Bogdanca—means that the estate Bogdaniec belonged to his family and to him;—in the following centuries the z was changed to ski, put on the end of the name and instead of writing z Bogdanca, a man of the same family was called Bogdanski; but it does not follow that every Pole, whose name ends in ski is a nobleman. Therefore the translation of that particular z into English of is only strictly correct, although in other cases z should be translated into English from: to write: Baron de Rothschild is absurd and ridiculous, because the sign "red shield" was not an estate, and one cannot put de before it.]

[Footnote 15: A wealthy possessor of land—they were freemen and had serfs working for them—some of them were noblemen, and had the right to use coats of arms.]

[Footnote 16: Pan—Lord]

[Footnote 17: A man coming from Mazowsze—the part of Poland round Warsaw.]

[Footnote 18: Count.]

[Footnote 19: Back side of the axe.]

[Footnote 20: A town surrounded with walls and having a peculiar jurisdiction or a kind of a castle.]

[Footnote 21: Inhabitants of Rus'—part of Poland round Lwow—Leopol (Latin), Lemberg (German).]

[Footnote 22: Money;—marks.]

[Footnote 23: Hail—the war-cry of the family, either because it was numerous like hail or struck sharply like hail.]

[Footnote 24: Count.]

[Footnote 25: Wdaly—in old Polish—handsome.]

[Footnote 26: Beautiful.]

[Footnote 27: Abbot of a hundred villages.]

[Footnote 28: Ordinary German soldiers.]

[Footnote 29: A nobleman holding an estate of the Crown, with or without jurisdiction.]

[Footnote 30: Knight of the Cross in Polish.]

[Footnote 31: Vocative from Zbyszko.]

[Footnote 32: Pater-noster—the Lord's prayer.]

[Footnote 33: Historical fact.]

[Footnote 34: A military title with jurisdiction—corresponding to general.]

[Footnote 35: Historical fact.]

[Footnote 36: Bonebreaker.]

[Footnote 37: Historical fact.]

[Footnote 38: A large building which served for different purposes, but especially, as a depot of broadcloth; in Polish sukno, hence its name: sukiennice.]

[Footnote 39: Noblemen in Lithuania and Russia.]

[Footnote 40: The Tartars were divided into Ords—it was a fancy division, without any precise number.]

[Footnote 41: Anjou in French.]

[Footnote 42: Piasts is family name—the first kings of Poland were Piasts.]

[Footnote 43: Mountains in Poland—sometimes improperly called Carpathian Mountains.]

[Footnote 44: Priest—or prince in the old Slav language.]

[Footnote 45: In Poland they use in the churches a sprinkling brush made of thin shavings of a certain wood—such a brush is called, "kropidlo."]

[Footnote 46: The Province of Dobrzyn was seized by the Knights of the Cross on the ground of an unlawful agreement with Wladyslaw Opolczyk.]

[Footnote 47: Allusion to beehives on the trees; to take honey from them, the keeper was obliged to climb a rope.]

[Footnote 48: Famous battle in which the Germans were defeated by King Wladyslaw Lokietek.]

[Footnote 49: Ksiondz—priest.]

[Footnote 50: We will go to dissipate.]

[Footnote 51: Marienburg in German.]

[Footnote 52: King.]

[Footnote 53: Friend.]

[Footnote 54: Diminutive of kniaz—prince.]

[Footnote 55: Diminutive from bojar—Lord.]

[Footnote 56: Marienburg in German.]

[Footnote 57: A sort of coat.]

[Footnote 58: The bison of Pliny; the urus of Caesar. The bison, destroyed in all other countries of Europe, is only to be found in Poland in the forest of Bialowieza, where a special body of guards takes care of this rare animal.]

[Footnote 59: It means here a fort, a stronghold, a castle.]

[Footnote 60: Grzywna or mark was equal to half pound of silver.]

[Footnote 61: High sharp pointed hat.]

[Footnote 62: Crooked.]

[Footnote 63: Polish tata = papa; hence the diminutive and endearing terms tatus, tatutu and tatulku = "dear papa," "dear little papa," etc.]

[Footnote 64: Another form of diminutive from tata—father.]

[Footnote 65: Church with certain special privileges. It is a popular expression for the church called collegiata, in Latin.]

[Footnote 66: Silesia.]

[Footnote 67: A popular exclamation of joy—sometimes of distress if it is put with another word.]

[Footnote 68: An exclamation of mirth, especially in songs; and while dancing, they exclaim in Poland: hoc! hoc!]

[Footnote 69: Wooden beehive excavated in a tree.]

[Footnote 70: Kind of fur jacket—bolero.]

[Footnote 71: Both words are diminutives of tata—father.]

[Footnote 72: Diminutive of mother.]

[Footnote 73: In 1331.]

[Footnote 74: Stronghold—castle.]

[Footnote 75: Miss.]

[Footnote 76: Breslau in German.]

[Footnote 77: Diminutive of tata father.]

[Footnote 78: Abbreviation of Przeclaw.]

[Footnote 79: Podhale is part of the mountains of Karpaty.]

[Footnote 80: Nickname given to bears.]

[Footnote 81: Popular name for bear.]

[Footnote 82: Wolf.]

[Footnote 83: Seminarists students.]

[Footnote 84: Diminutive of wlodyka.]

[Footnote 85: Piece of money; it is twenty-fourth part of grzywna or mark, which was worth half pound of silver; one skojeg was worth about one-third of an ounce.]

[Footnote 86: "Bold Mountain"—a place in Poland, where one of the first three Benedictine monasteries was built by the king, Boleslaw Chrobry (the Valiant) 1125. In this monastery is a part of our Saviour's cross—hence pilgrimages to that place.]

[Footnote 87: Diminutive of wlodyka.]

[Footnote 88: Another form of pan—lord; when one speaks in commiseration or in sympathy, any noun can take this form.]

[Footnote 89: A short prayer for the dead.]

[Footnote 90: The famous victory over the Knights of the Cross by the king Wladyslaw Lokietek.]

[Footnote 91: Lokiec means an ell in Polish. King Wladyslaw was of the family Piasts, but he was called Lokietek on account of his short stature.]

[Footnote 92: Marks.]

[Footnote 93: Here it means a commandant.]

[Footnote 94: A part of Poland. The people were called Kurpie, on account of their shoes made of the bark of trees. They were all famous marksmen.]

[Footnote 95: Krystyn.]

[Footnote 96: A woolen material, made by Polish peasants. In some provinces kilimeks are very artistic on account of the odd designs and the harmony of the colors.]

[Footnote 97: Szczytno in Polish.]

[Footnote 98: Cymbaska who married Ernest Iron Habsburg.]

[Footnote 99: The knight Uter, being in love with the virtuous Igerna, wife of Prince Gorlas, with Merlin's help assumed the form of Gorlas, and with Igerna begot the king Arthur.]

[Footnote 100: Kind of horn.]

[Footnote 101: Wigand of Marburg mentions such cases.]

[Footnote 102: There is a custom in Poland, Hungary, Bohemia and some other countries, to break wafers at receptions and parties, on Christmas eve and the following two days, expressing in the meantime good wishes for all manner of prosperity and happiness. The wafers are distributed by the parish that is to say by the priest or sexton. The author refers to that custom.]

[Footnote 103: Siebenkirchen in German, a province which now belongs to Hungary, it was then an independent principality.]

[Footnote 104: Diminutive of mother; it is a charming expression. The Polish language, like the Italian, has a great variety of diminutives.]

[Footnote 105: Glowacz the Polish for the Bohemian Hlawa, the latter means "head," but the former means also "big" or "thick head."—(S.A.B.)]

[Footnote 106: Lotarynczyk means the man from Lotaringen.]

[Footnote 107: Byway means, in this instance, "here we are".]

[Footnote 108: Pontnik, "Pardoner," one who dispenses indulgences.—(S.A.B.)]

[Footnote 109: Called: Misericordia.]

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

[Footnote 111: The diminutive of Anna.]

[Footnote 112: Lit., She was walking on live coals.]

[Footnote 113: Meaning never.]

[Footnote 114: Relics of the gallows were preserved down to the year 1818.]

[Footnote 115: One Polish mile is about three American miles.]

[Footnote 116: Setnik, captain over one hundred.]

[Footnote 117: The Greater Bear, or Charleswain ... other names are hen and chickens, dipper, etc. Arabic, Dhiba.]

[Footnote 118: Wieczny odpoczynek racz mu daj Panie. "God rest his soul."]


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