better to die in my own courtyard!”
He had longed to see Bogdaniec for several years, therefore now, when he was so near it, he must go there, even if it were his last night. God was merciful, having permitted him who was so ill, to reach here.
He brushed away the tears gathered under his eyelids, with his hand, looked around and said:
“If these are the woods of Wilk of Bizozowa we will be home this afternoon.”
“They do not belong to Wilk of Bizozowa any longer; but to the abbot,” said Zych.
Macko smiled and said after awhile:
“If they belong to the abbot, then sometime, they may belong to us.”
“Bah! awhile ago you were talking about death,” said Zych joyfully, “and now you wish to outlive the abbot.”
“No, I will not outlive him; but Zbyszko may.”
Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of horns in the forest. Zych stopped his horse and began to listen.
“Somebody is hunting,” said he. “Wait.”
“Perhaps it is the abbot. It would be pleasant to meet him here.”
Here be turned to his retinue.
They halted. The horns resounded nearer, and soon afterward the baying of dogs was heard.
“Stop!” repeated Zych. “They are coming toward us.”
Zbyszko jumped from his horse and began to shout:
“Give me the crossbow! The beast may attack us! Hasten! Hasten!”
Having seized the crossbow from the servant’s hands, he rested it against the ground, pressed it against his abdomen, bent, stretched his back like a bow, and having seized the string with the fingers of both hands, he pulled it on to the iron hook; then placed an arrow and sprang into the woods.
“He stretched it without a crank!” whispered Zych, astonished at such great strength.
“Ho, he is a strong boy!” answered Macko, proudly.
Meanwhile, the sound of horns and the barking of dogs stole nearer; all at once, at the right side of the forest, a heavy trampling resounded, accompanied by the crackling of broken branches and bushes–then out of the thicket rushed an old bearded urus, with his gigantic head lowered, with bloody eyes and panting tongue, breathless and terrible. Coming to a small ravine, he leaped it, but fell on his forelegs; but immediately he arose, and a few seconds later he would have disappeared in the thicket on the other side of the road, when the string of the crossbow twanged, the whistling of the arrow resounded, the beast reared, turned, roared dreadfully and fell on the ground as if he were struck by a thunderbolt.
Zbyszko leaped from behind a tree, again stretched the crossbow, and approached the bull who was pawing the ground with his hind feet.
But having glanced at it, he turned quietly toward the retinue, and began to shout from afar:
“I hit him so hard that he is severely wounded!”
“You are a strong boy!” said Zych, riding toward him, “with one arrow only!”
“Bah, it was near, and the speed was great. Come and see; not only the iron, but even the shaft has disappeared under the left shoulder bone.”
“The huntsmen must be near; they will claim the beast.”
“I will not give it to them!” answered Zbyszko. “It was killed on the road, and the road is not private property.”
“But if it belong to the abbot?”
“Well, then he may have it.”
Meanwhile, several dogs came out of the forest. Having perceived the animal, they rushed on him.
“Soon the huntsmen will appear,” said Zych. “Look! There they are, but they do not see the beast yet. Stop! Stop! Here, here! Killed! Killed!”
Then he became silent, and sheltered his eyes with one hand; after a while, he said:
“For God’s sake! what has happened? Have I become blind, or does it only seem so to me?”
“There is some one on a piebald horse in the front,” said Zbyszko.
Then Zych exclaimed at once:
“Dear Jesus! It must be Jagienka!”
And he began to shout:
Then he rushed forward; but before he could make his horse gallop, Zbyszko perceived a most wonderful spectacle; he beheld a girl sitting like a man, on a swift piebald horse, rushing toward them; she had a crossbow in one hand and a boar-spear on her shoulders. Her floating hair was full of hop strobiles; her face was bright like the dawn. Her shirt was opened on the bosom, and she wore a _serdak_. Having reached them, she reined in her horse; for a while, her face expressed surprise, hesitation, joy; finally, being scarcely able to believe her own eyes, she began to cry in a childish voice:
“_Tatulo_, _tatus_ dearest!”
In the twinkling of an eye, she jumped from her horse, and Zych dismounted also to welcome her; she threw her arms around his neck. Fora long time, Zbyszko heard only the sounds of kisses and these two words: “_Tatulo!_ Jagula! _Tatulo!_ Jagula!” repeated in a joyful outburst.
Both retinues now approached, and Macko arrived also; they continued to repeat: “_Tatulo!_ Jagula!” and still kissed each other. Finally Jagienka asked:
“Then you decided to return from the war? Are you well?”
“From the war. Why should I not be well? And you? And the boys? Are they well also? Yes, otherwise you would not run in the forest. But, my girl, what are you doing here?”
“Don’t you see that I am hunting?” answered Jagienka, laughing.
“In somebody else’s woods?”
“The abbot gave me permission. He even sent me experienced huntsmen and a pack of hounds.”
Here she turned to the servants:
“Chase the dogs away, they will tear the skin!”
Then to Zych:
“Oj, how glad I am to see you!” And they again kissed each other. When they were through, Jagna said:
“We are far from home; we followed the beast. I am sure it must be more than ten miles; the horses are exhausted. What a large urus! Did you notice? He must have at least three of my arrows in him; the last one killed him.”
“He was killed by the last, but it was not yours; this knight killed him.”
Jagienka threw her hair back and looked at Zbyszko sharply, but not very friendly.
“Do you know who he is?” asked Zych.
“I do not know.”
“No wonder you do not recognize him, because he has grown. Perhaps you will recognize old Macko of Bogdaniec?”
“For God’s sake! is that Macko of Bogdaniec?” exclaimed Jagienka.
Having approached the wagon, she kissed Macko’s hand.
“It is you?”
“Yes, it is I; but I am obliged to ride in the wagon, because the Germans wounded me.”
“What Germans? The war was with the Tartars?”
“There was a war with the Tartars, but we were not in that war; we fought in the war in Lithuania, Zbyszko and I.”
“Where is Zbyszko?”
“Then you did not recognize Zbyszko?” said Macko smiling.
“Is that man Zbyszko?” exclaimed the girl, looking again at the young knight.
“Yes, it is he.”
“You must give him a kiss, because he is an old acquaintance of yours,” said Zych, mirthfully.
Jagienka turned gaily toward Zbyszko; but suddenly she retreated, and having covered her eyes with her hand, she said:
“I am bashful.”
“But we have known each other since we were children,” said Zbyszko.
“Aha! we know each other well. I remember when you made us a visit with Macko about eight years ago, and my _matula_ gave us some nuts with honey; you being the elder, struck me with your fist and then ate all the nuts yourself.”
“He will not act like that now!” said Macko. “He has been with _Kniaz_ Witold, and with the court in Krakow, and he has learned courtly manners.”
But Jagienka was now thinking about something else; turning toward Zbyszko, she asked:
“Then you killed the urus?”
“We must see where the arrow is.”
“You cannot see it; it disappeared under the shoulder bone.”
“Be quiet; do not dispute,” said Zych. “We all saw him shoot the urus, and we saw something still better; he bent the bow without a crank.”
Jagienka looked at Zbyszko for the third time, but now with astonishment.
“You bent the crossbow without a crank?”
Zbyszko, detecting some doubt in her voice, rested the crossbow on the ground, and bent it in the twinkling of an eye; then wishing to show that he was familiar with knightly manners, he kneeled on one knee and handed the bow to Jagienka. But the girl, instead of taking it from him, suddenly blushed–she did not know why herself, and began to fasten the shirt, which, during the swift riding, had become opened on her bosom.
The next day after their arrival at Bogdaniec, Macko and Zbyszko began to look around their old home; they soon realized that Zych of Zgorzelice was right when he told them that at first they would be uncomfortable.
With the farming they could get along quite well. There were several fields cultivated by the peasants whom the abbot had settled there. Formerly there had been much cultivated land in Bogdaniec; but after the battle at Plowce where the family Grady perished, there was a scarcity of working hands; and after the invasion of the Germans from Szlonsk and after the war of Nalenczs with Grzymalits, the formerly rich fields became overgrown with trees. Macko could not help it. In vain he tried for several years to bring farmers from Krzesnia and rent the land to them; they refused to come, preferring to remain on their own strips of land rather than to cultivate some one else’s. His offer however attracted some shelterless men; in the different wars, he captured several slaves whom he married and settled in the houses; and in that way he populated the village. But it was hard work for him; therefore as soon as he had an opportunity, Macko pledged the whole of Bogdaniec, thinking that it would be easier for the powerful abbot to settle the land with peasants, and that the war would bring to him and to Zbyszko some people and money. In fact, the abbot was energetic. He had increased the working force of Bogdaniec with five peasant families; he increased the stock of cattle and horses; then he built a barn, a stable and a cow house. But as he did not live in Bogdaniec, he did not repair the house. Macko, who had hoped to find the _grodek_ surrounded with a ditch and hedge when he returned, found everything just as he had left it, with this difference only, that the walls were more crooked and seemed to be lower, because they had settled deeper in the earth.
The house contained an enormous hall, two large rooms with alcoves, and a kitchen. In the rooms there were windows made of bladders; and in the centre of each room, there was a fireplace made of lime, and the smoke escaped through a hole in the ceiling. From the ceilings now blackened from smoke, during former times used to hang the hams of boars, bears and deer, rumps of roes, sides of beef and rolls of sausages. But now the hooks were empty as well as the shelves fastened to the walls, on which they used to put the tin and earthen dishes. The walls beneath the shelves were no longer empty, however, because Zbyszko had ordered his servants to hang helmets, cuirasses, long swords and short swords on them; and further along boar-spears and forks, caparisons and saddles. The smoke blackened the weapons, and it was necessary to clean them very often. But Macko, who was careful, ordered the servants to put the costly clothes in the alcove in which his bed stood.
In the front rooms there stood near the windows, pine tables and benches of the same, on which the lords used to sit during the meals, with all their servants. People accustomed to war were easily satisfied; but in Bogdaniec there was neither bread nor flour and no dishes. The peasants brought what they could; Macko expected that the neighbors, as was then customary, would help him; and he was not mistaken, at least as far as Zych of Zgorzelice was concerned.
The second day, when the old _wlodyka_ was sitting on a log in front of the house, delighted with the bright autumn day, Jagienka came, riding a black horse; she dismounted and approached Macko, out of breath on account of fast riding, and rosy as an apple; she said:
“May you be blessed! _Tatulo_ sent me to inquire about your health.”
“I am no worse,” answered Macko; “and at least I have slept in my own house.”
“But you cannot be comfortable at all, and a sick person needs some care.”
“We are hardened people. It is true that at first there was no comfort; but we were not hungry. We ordered an ox and two sheep killed, so there is plenty of meat. The women brought some flour and eggs; the worst is that we have no dishes.”
“Well, I ordered my servants to load two wagons. On one there are two beds and dishes, and on the other different provisions. There are some cakes and flour, some salt pork and dried mushrooms; there is a barrel of beer and one of mead; in fact a little of everything we had in the house.”
Macko, who was grateful for this kindness, caressed Jagienka’s head, and said:
“May God reward your father and you. When our housekeeping improves, we will return the provisions.”
“How clever you are! We are not like the Germans, who take back what they give.”
“Well, so much more may God reward you. Your father told us what a good housekeeper you are, and that you had taken care of Zgorzelice the whole year?”
“Yes! If you need anything else, send somebody; but send some one who will know what is needed, because a stupid servant never knows what he has been sent for.”
Here Jagienka began to look round, and Macko having noticed it, smiled and asked:
“For whom are you looking?”
“I am looking for no one!”
“I will send Zbyszko to thank you and your father. Do you like Zbyszko?”
“I have not looked at him.”
“Then look at him now, because he is just coming.”
In fact Zbyszko was coming from the stable. He was dressed in a reindeer jacket and round felt cap like those worn under the helmets; his hair was without a net, cut evenly over his eyebrows and hung in golden curls on his shoulders; he walked swiftly, having noticed the girl; he was tall and graceful, looking like the shield-bearer of a rich nobleman.
Jagienka turned toward Macko as if to show that she came only to see him; but Zbyszko welcomed her joyfully, and having taken hold of her hand, raised it to his mouth, notwithstanding her resistance.
“Why do you kiss my hand?” asked she. “Am I a priest?”
“Such is the custom; you must not resist.”
“Even if he had kissed both your hands,” said Macko, “it would not be enough for all that you have brought us.”
“What have you brought?” asked Zbyszko, looking around the court-yard; but he did not see anything except the black horse tied to the post.
“The wagons have not come yet; but they will soon be here,” answered Jagienka.
Macko began to enumerate what she had brought; but when he mentioned the two beds, Zbyszko said:
“I am satisfied to sleep on the urus’ skin; but I thank you because you thought about me also.”
“It was not I; it was _Tatulo_,” answered the girl, blushing. “If you prefer to sleep on the skin, you can do it.”
“I prefer to sleep on what I can. Sometimes after a battle, I slept with a dead Krzyzak instead of a pillow under my head.”
“You do not mean to tell me that you have ever killed a Krzyzak? I am sure you have not.”
Zbyszko, instead of answering, began to laugh. But Macko exclaimed:
“For heaven’s sake, girl, you do not know him yet! He has never done anything else, but kill the Germans. He can fight with an axe, a spear or with any weapon; and when he sees a German from afar, one must tie him with a rope, or else he will rush against him. In Krakow he wanted to kill the envoy, Lichtenstein, and for that he barely escaped execution. Such a man! I will tell you also about the two Fryzes, from whom we took their retinues and so much rich booty, that one could redeem Bogdaniec with half of it.”
Here Macko began to tell about his duel with the Fryzjans; also about other adventures which had happened to them, and about the deeds they had performed. How they had fought from behind the walls and in the open fields, with the greatest knights living in foreign lands; how they had fought Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen and Burgundians. He also told her what they had seen! They had seen German castles of red brick, Lithuanian wooden _grodzce_ and churches, more beautiful than one could see around Bogdaniec; also large cities and the dreadful wilderness in which during the nights Lithuanian gods cried, and many different, marvelous things; and everywhere, in any fight, Zbyszko was victorious, so that even the greatest knights were astonished at him.
Jagienka, who was sitting on the log beside Macko, listened with open mouth to that narrative, tossing her head and looking at the young knight with increasing admiration and amazement. Finally when Macko was through, she sighed and said:
“I am sorry I was not born a boy!”
But Zbyszko, who during the narration had been looking at her attentively, evidently was thinking about something else, because he suddenly said:
“What a beautiful girl you are now!”
Jagienka answered, half in displeasure and half in sadness:
“You have seen many more beautiful than I am.”
But Zbyszko could truly answer her that he had not seen many as pretty as she, because Jagienka was beaming with health, youth and strength. The old abbot used to say that she looked like a pine tree. Everything was beautiful in her; a slender figure, a broad bosom that looked as if it were cut out of marble, a red mouth, and intelligent blue eyes. She was also dressed with more care than when in the forest with the hunting party. Around her neck she had a necklace of red beads; she wore a fur jacket opened in front and covered with green cloth, a homespun skirt and new boots. Even old Macko noticed this beautiful attire, and having looked at her for a moment, asked:
“Why are you dressed as if you were going to church?”
But instead of answering, she exclaimed:
“The wagons are coming!”
In fact the wagons now appeared and she sprang toward them, followed by Zbyszko. The unloading lasted quite a long time to the great satisfaction of Macko who looked at everything, and praised Jagienka all the time. It was dusk when the girl started home. While she was getting ready to mount her horse, Zbyszko suddenly caught her, and before she was able to say a word, lifted her into the saddle. Then she blushed like the dawn and turning her head toward him, said with emotion in her voice:
“What a strong boy you are!”
But he, not having noticed her confusion nor her blushes because it was dark, laughed and said:
“Are you not afraid of wild beasts? It is night!”
“There is a boar-spear in the wagon. Give it to me.”
Zbyszko went to the wagon, took the boar-spear and handed it to Jagienka; then he said:
“Be in good health!”
“Be in good health!” she answered.
“May God reward you! To-morrow, or the day after, I will be in Zgorzelice to thank Zych and you for your kindness.”
“Come! You will be welcome!”
Having touched her horse, she disappeared among the bushes growing on the sides of the road.
Zbyszko returned to his uncle.
“You must go inside.”
But Macko answered, without moving from the log:
“Hej! I what a girl! I She made the court-yard brighter!”
“That is true!”
There was a moment of silence. Macko seemed to be thinking about something while looking at the stars; then he said, as if he were speaking to himself:
“She is pretty and a good housekeeper, although she is not more than fifteen years old.”
“Yes!” answered Zbyszko. “Therefore old Zych loves her dearly.”
“And he said that the estate of Moczydoly will be her dowry; and there on the pastures is a herd of mares with many colts.”
“Are there not a great many marshes in the Moczydlowski estate?”
“Yes; but in those marshes there are plenty of beavers.”
There was silence again. Macko looked intently at Zbyszko for a while, and finally he asked, “About what are you thinking?”
“Seeing Jagienka reminded me of Danusia, and something pricked me in the heart.”
“Let us go into the house,” answered the old _wlodyka_. “It is getting late.”
Having risen with difficulty, he leaned on Zbyszko, who conducted him to the alcove.
The next day Zbyszko went to Zgorzelice, because Macko urged him. He also insisted that he take two servants with him for ostentation, and that he dress in his best clothes, to show respect and gratitude to Zych. Zbyszko did as he was asked and went attired as if for a wedding, in his _jaka_ made of white satin, bordered with gold fringe and embroidered with gold griffins. Zych received him with open arms, with joy and with singing; as for Jagienka, when she entered, she stopped as if she were rooted to the ground and almost dropped the bucket of wine which she was carrying; she thought that a son of some king had arrived. She became timid and sat silently, rubbing her eyes from time to time as if she would like to awaken from a dream. The inexperienced Zbyszko thought that, for some reason unknown to him, she did not wish to talk to him; therefore he conversed only with Zych, praising his munificence and admiring the house at Zgorzelice, which in fact was quite different from that in Bogdaniec.
Everywhere comfort and wealth were evident. In the rooms there were windows with panes made of horn, cut in thin slices and polished so that it was as transparent as glass. Instead of fireplaces in the centre, there were large chimneys in the corners. The floors were made of larch tree planks, while on the walls were hung suits of armor and many polished dishes, also silver spoons. Here and there were costly rugs brought from the wars. Under the tables there were enormous urus’ skins. Zych showed his riches willingly, saying that it was Jagienka’s household. He conducted Zbyszko to the alcove, fragrant with rosin and peppermint, in which were hanging from the ceiling, large bunches of wolf skins, fox skins, beaver skins and marten skins. He showed to him the provisions of cheese, honey, wax, barrels of flour, pails of dried bread, hemp and dried mushrooms. Then he went with him to the granaries, barns, stables, cow houses, and to the sheds filled with plenty of hunting implements and nets. Zbyszko was so dazzled by all this wealth that during supper, he could not refrain from admiration.
“What a pleasure to live in Zgorzelice!” exclaimed he.
“In Moczydoly, there is almost the same wealth,” answered Zych. “Do you remember Moczydoly? It is not far from Bogdaniec. Formerly our forefathers quarreled about the boundaries and challenged each other; but I shall not quarrel.”
Here he filled Zbyszko’s goblet with mead and said:
“Perhaps you would like to sing?”
“No,” answered Zbyszko; “but I shall listen to you with pleasure.”
“Zgorzelice will belong to the young bears.”
“What do you mean by ‘young bears?'”
“Why, Jagienka’s brothers.”
“Hej! they will not have to suck their paws during the winter.”
“No; but Jagienka will also have plenty in Moczydoly.”
“That is true!”
“Why don’t you eat and drink? Jagienka, pour for him and for me.”
“I am drinking and eating as much as I can.”
“Ungird your belt; then you will be able to eat and drink more. What a beautiful girdle you have! Yon must have taken rich booty in Lithuania!”
“We cannot complain,” answered Zbyszko, gladly seizing the opportunity to explain that the heirs of Bogdaniec were no longer _wlodykas_. “A part of our booty, we sold in Krakow and received forty silver _grzywiens_ for it.”
“You don’t say so! Why, one can buy an estate for that.”
“Yes. There was one Milanese armor which my uncle, expecting to die, sold for a good price.”
“I know! Well, it is worth while to go to Lithuania. I wanted to go there also; but I was afraid.”
“Of what? Of the Knights of the Cross?”
“Ej, who would be afraid of Germans? I was afraid of those heathenish gods or devils. It seems there are plenty of them in the woods.”
“They do not have any other place for shelter, because their temples have been burned. Formerly they were well-to-do; but now they live on mushrooms and ants.”
“Did you see them?”
“No, I did not see any myself; but I heard of people who had seen them. Sometimes one of them sticks out a hairy paw from behind a tree and shakes it, begging for something.”
“Macko told me the same,” answered Jagienka.
“Yes! He told me about it on the road,” said Zych. “Well, no wonder! In our country also, although it has been a Christian country for a long time, one can hear laughter in the marshes; and although the priests scold about it in the churches, it is always good policy to put a dish filled with something to eat, for the little devils; otherwise they will scratch on the walls so much that one can hardly sleep. Jagienka, my dearest! put a dish at the threshold.”
Jagienka took an earthen porringer full of noodles and cheese, and placed it at the threshold. Zych said:
“The priests scold! But the Lord Jesus will not be angry about a dish of noodles; and a god, as soon as his hunger is satisfied, will protect one from fire and from thieves.”
Then he turned to Zbyszko:
“But will you not ungird yourself and sing a little?”
“You had better sing, or perhaps _Panna_ Jagienka will sing.”
“We will sing by turns,” exclaimed Zych. “We have a servant who will accompany us on a wooden fife. Call the boy!”
They called the servant who sat down on the bench and put the fife to his mouth, waiting to learn whom he was to accompany.
None of them wanted to be first. Finally Zych told Jagienka to begin; therefore Jagienka, although bashful because Zbyszko was present, rose from the bench and having put her hands under her apron, began:
“If I only could get
The wings like a birdie,
I would fly quickly
To my dearest Jasiek.”
Zbyszko opened his eyes wide; then he jumped up and shouted:
“Where did you learn that song?”
Jagienka looked at him astonished.
“Everybody sings that. What is the matter with you?”
Zych thinking that Zbyszko was a little intoxicated, turned his jovial face toward him and said:
“Ungird! It will relieve you!”
But Zbyszko stood for a while with astonishment on his face; then, having recovered from his emotion, said to Jagienka:
“Excuse me, I suddenly remembered something. Sing further.”
“Perhaps it makes you sad?”
“Ej, not at all!” he answered, with a quivering voice. “I could listen to it the whole night.”
Then he sat down, covered his face with his hand, and listened.
Jagienka sang another couplet; but when she finished, she noticed a big tear rolling down Zbyszko’s fingers.
Then she sat down beside him, and began to touch him with her elbow.
“What is the matter with you? I do not want to make you cry. Tell me what is the matter with you?”
“Nothing! Nothing!” answered Zbyszko, sighing. “I could tell you much. But it is over. I feel merry now.”
“Perhaps you would like to have some sweet wine?”
“Good girl!” exclaimed Zych. “Call him ‘Zbyszko,’ and you call her ‘Jagienka.’ You have known each other since you were children.”
Then he turned toward his daughter:
“Do not mind because he struck you when you were children. He will not do it now.”
“I will not!” answered Zbyszko, mirthfully. “If she wishes, she may beat me now for it.”
Then Jagienka, wishing to cheer him up, began to play that she was striking him with her little fist.
“Give us some wine!” shouted the merry _Pan_ of Zgorzelice.
Jagienka sprang to the closet and brought out a jug of wine, two beautiful silver goblets, engraved by a silversmith of Wroclaw and a couple of cheese.
Zych, being a little intoxicated, began to hug the jug and said to it as if he were talking to his daughter:
“Oj, my dear girl! What shall I do, poor man, when they take you from Zgorzelice; what shall I do?”
“And you must give her up soon!” said Zbyszko.
Zych began to laugh.
“Chy! Chy! The girl is only fifteen; but she is already fond of boys! When she sees one of them, she begins immediately to rub knee with knee!”
“_Tatusiu_ if you don’t stop, I will leave you,” said Jagienka.
“Don’t go! It’s better with you here.” Then he continued to say to Zbyszko:
“Two of them visit us. One of them is young Wilk, the son of old Wilk of Bizozowa; the other is Cztan of Rogow. If they meet you here, they will gnash their teeth, as they do at each other.”
“Owa!” said Zbyszko. Then he turned to Jagienka and asked:
“Which do you prefer?”
“Neither of them.”
“Wilk is a great boy,” said Zych.
“Let him go in another direction!”
Jagienka began to laugh:
“Cztan,” said she, turning toward Zbyszko, “he has hair on his face like a goat; one can hardly see his eyes; and he has as much grease on him as a bear.”
Zbyszko now touched his head with his hand as if he had just remembered something important, and said:
“I must ask you for one thing more; have you any bear’s grease? I want to use it for medicine for my uncle; and I could not find any in Bogdaniec.”
“We used to have some,” answered Jagienka; “but the boys have used some to grease their bows, and the dogs have eaten the rest.”
“Is there none left?”
“Not a bit!”
“Well, then, I must find some in the forest.”
“Have a hunting party for bears; there are plenty of them; and if you want some hunting implements, we will lend you some.”
“I cannot wait. I will go some night to a _barcie_.”
“Take a few men with you.”
“No, I shall not do that, for they will frighten the beast.”
“But you will take a crossbow!”
“What can I do with a crossbow during the night? There is no moon now! I will take a fork and a strong axe, and I will go alone to-morrow.”
Jagienka was silent for awhile; but great uneasiness was reflected on her face.
“Last year,” said she, “the huntsman, Bezduch, was killed by a bear. It is dangerous, because as soon as the bear sees a man near the _barcie_, he immediately stands up on his hind feet.”
“If he ran away, I could not get him,” answered Zbyszko.
At that moment Zych who had been dozing, suddenly awakened and began to sing:
“Thou Kuba, of toil
I Maciek of pleasure,
Go then in the morning with the yoke in the field, While I amuse myself with Kasia.”
Then he said to Zbyszko:
“You know? There are two of them, Wilk of Brzozowa and Cztan of Rogow; and you?”
But Jagienka being afraid that Zych would say too much, swiftly approached Zbyszko, and began to inquire:
“When are you going? To-morrow?”
“To-morrow after sunset.”
“And to which _barcie_?”
“To ours in Bogdaniec, not far from your boundaries, near the marshes of Radzikow. They tell me it is very easy to get a bear there.”
Zbyszko went for the bear as be proposed, because Macko became worse. At first when he reached Bogdaniec, he was sustained by joy and the first cares about the house; but on the third day, the fever returned, and the pain was so great that he was obliged to go to bed. Zbyszko went to the _barcie_ during the day, and while there he perceived that there were the footprints of a bear in the mud. He spoke to the beehive keeper, Wawrek, who slept in a shed not far away, with his two faithful Podhalan dogs; but he intended to return to the village on account of the cold.
They destroyed the shed, and Wawrek took the dogs with him. But first they smeared the trees here and there with honey, so that the smell of it would attract the animal. Zbyszko returned home and began to prepare for the expedition. He dressed himself in a warm reindeer jacket without sleeves; on the top of his head, he put a bonnet made of iron wire; finally he took a strong fork and a steel axe. Before sunset he had taken his position; and having made the sign of the cross, he sat down and waited.
The red beams of the setting sun were still shining between the branches of the gigantic pines. In the tops of the trees, the crows were flying, croaking and beating the air with their wings; here and there the hares were leaping toward the water, making a noise on the dried leaves; some times a swift marten passed by. In the thickets, the chirping of the birds was at first heard–but gradually ceased.
After sunset the noises of the forest began. Immediately a pack of boars passed near Zbyszko with a great bustle and snorting; then elks galloped in a long row, each holding his head on the tail of the one in front of him. The dried branches crackled under their feet and the forest resounded; but on they rushed toward the marshes where during the night, they were cool and safe. Finally the twilight was reflected on the sky, and the tops of the pine trees illuminated by it seemed to burn, as if on fire; then little by little everything began to be quieted. The forest was still. Dusk was rising from earth toward the gleaming twilight, which began finally to grow fainter, then gloomy, blacker and then was quenched.
“Now, everything will be quiet, until the wolves begin to howl,” thought Zbyszko.
He regretted that he had not taken his crossbow, because he could easily have killed a boar or an elk. In the meanwhile, from the marshes came muffled sounds similar to heavy panting and whistling. Zbyszko looked toward that marsh with some apprehension, because the peasant, Radzik, who used to live here in an earth-hut, disappeared with his whole family, as if devoured by the earth. Some people said they were seized by robbers; but there were others who saw some strange footprints, neither human nor of beasts, round the cabin. The people shook their heads very much about that, and they even spoke about bringing a priest from Krzesnia, to bless the hut. But they did not do it because nobody was willing to live in that hut, which from that time, had an evil reputation. It is true that the beehive keeper, Wawrek, did not pay any attention to these reports.
Zbyszko being armed with the fork and axe, was not afraid of the wild beasts; but he thought with some uneasiness about the evil forces, and he was glad when that noise stopped.
The last reverberation ceased, and there was complete silence. The wind stopped blowing and there was not even the usual whispering in the tops of the pine trees. From time to time, a pine cone fell, making quite a noise amidst the deep silence; but in general, everything was so quiet that Zbyszko heard his own respirations.
Thus he sat quietly for a long time, thinking first about the bear, and then about Danusia. He recollected how he seized her in his arms when bidding the princess farewell, and how she cried; he remembered her fair head and bright face, her wreaths of bachelor buttons, her singing, her red shoes with long tips, and finally everything that happened from the moment he first saw her. Such a longing to see her, filled his heart, that he forgot that he was in the forest waiting for the bear; instead of that he began to talk to himself:
“I will go to see you, because I cannot live without you.”
He felt that he must go to Mazowsze; that if he remained in Bogdaniec, he would become good for nothing. He recollected Jurand and his strange opposition; then he thought that it was even more necessary he should go, and learn what that obstacle was, and if a challenge to combat could not remove it. Finally it seemed to him that Danusia stretched her bands toward him and cried:
“Come, Zbyszku! Come!” How could he refuse?
He was not sleeping, but he saw her as distinctly as in a dream. There she was, riding beside the princess, thrumming on her little lute, humming and thinking of him. Thinking that she would soon see him, and perhaps looking back.
Hero Zbyszko aroused himself and listened, because he heard a rustling behind him. Then he grasped the fork in his hand more tightly, stretched his neck and listened again.
The rustling approached and then it became very distinct. Under some careful foot, the dried branches were crackling, the fallen leaves were rustling. Something was coming.
From time to time the rustling ceased, as if the beast halted beneath the trees; then there was such quietude that Zbyszko’s ears began to ring; then again slow, careful steps were heard. That approach was so cautious that Zbyszko was surprised.
“I am sure ‘the old' must be afraid of the dogs which were here in the shed,” said he to himself; “but it may be a wolf that has scented me.”
Now the footsteps were no longer heard. Zbyszko, however, was sure that something had stopped twenty or thirty feet behind him.
He turned around once or twice; but although he could see the trunks of the trees quite well, he could not perceive anything else. He was obliged to wait.
He waited so long, that he was surprised a second time.
“A bear would not come here to stop under the _barcie_; and a wolf would not wait until morning.”
Suddenly a shiver ran through his body as he thought:
“Suppose it is something dreadful that comes from the marshes and is trying to surprise me from the rear! Suppose the slippery arms of a drowned man seize me, or the green eyes of a ghost look into my face; suppose a blue head on spider’s legs comes out from behind the tree and begins to laugh!”
He felt his hair begin to rise under his iron bonnet.
But after a while, a rustling sounded in front of him, more distinct this time than formerly. Zbyszko breathed more freely; he thought that the same “wonder” had gone around him, and now approached from the front; but he preferred that. He seized his fork firmly, arose quietly and waited.
Now he noticed over his head the rustling of the pine trees, and he felt the wind blow in his face, coming from the marsh, and he smelt the bear.
There was not the slightest doubt that a _mys_ was coming!
Zbyszko was afraid no longer, and having bent his head, he strained to the utmost his hearing and his sight. Heavy, distinct steps were coming; the smell grew stronger; soon the snore and groaning were heard.
“I hope there are not two of them!” thought Zbyszko.
But at that moment, he perceived in front of him the large, dark form of the animal, which was walking in the same direction from which the wind was blowing, and could not get the scent of him; its attention was also attracted by the smell of the honey on the trees.
“Come, uncle!” exclaimed Zbyszko, coming out from beneath the pine tree.
The bear roared shortly as if frightened by an unexpected apparition; but he was too near to seek safety in flight; therefore, in a moment he reared and separated his forelegs as if for a hug. This was exactly what Zbyszko was waiting for; he gathered himself together, jumped like lightning and with all the strength of his powerful arms and of his weight, he drove the fork into the animal’s chest.
The whole forest resounded now with the fearful roaring. The bear seized the fork with his paws, and tried to pull it out, but the incisions made by the points were too deep; therefore, feeling the pain, he roared still more fearfully. Wishing to reach Zbyszko, he leaned on the fork and thus drove it into his body still further. Zbyszko, not knowing that the points had entered so deeply, held on to the handle. The man and the animal began to struggle. The forest again resounded with the roaring in which wrath and despair were mingled.
Zbyszko could not use his axe until after he could drive the sharpened end of the fork into the ground. The bear having seized the handle, was shaking it as well as Zbyszko, and notwithstanding the pain caused by every movement of the points imbedded in his breast, be would not let it be “underpropped.” In this way the terrible struggle continued, and Zbyszko finally felt that his strength would soon be exhausted. If he fell, then he would be lost; therefore, he gathered all his strength, strained his arms to the utmost, set his feet firmly and bent his back like a bow, so as not to be thrown backward; and in his enthusiasm he repeated through set teeth:
“You or I will die!”
Such anger filled him that he really preferred at that moment to die, rather than to let the beast go. Finally his foot caught in the root of a tree; he tottered and would have fallen, if at that moment a dark figure had not appeared before him, and another fork “underpropped” the beast; and in the meanwhile, a voice shouted near his ear:
“Use your axe!”
Zbyszko, being excited by the fight, did not wonder even for a moment from whence came the unexpected help; but he seized the axe and cut with all his might. The fork cracked, broken by the weight and by the last convulsion of the beast, as it fell. There was a long silence broken only by Zbyszko’s loud respirations. But after a while, he lifted his head, looked at the form standing beside him and was afraid, thinking that it might not be a man.
“Who are you?” asked he, with uneasiness.
“Jagienka!” answered a thin, womanly voice.
Zbyszko became dumb from astonishment; he could not believe his own eyes. But his doubts did not last long, because Jagienka’s voice again resounded:
“I will build a fire.”
Immediately the clatter of a fire steel against a flint sounded and the sparks began to fall; by their glittering light, Zbyszko beheld the white forehead, the dark eyebrows and the red lips of the girl who was blowing on the tinder which began to burn. Not until then did he realize that she had come to the forest to help him, and that without her aid, he would have perished. He felt such gratitude toward her, that he impulsively seized her around the waist and kissed her on both cheeks.
The tinder and the steel fell to the ground.
“Let me be!” she began to repeat in a muffled voice; but she allowed him to kiss her and even, as if by accident, touched Zbyszko’s lips with her mouth. He released her and said:
“May God reward you. I do not know what would have happened without your help.”
Then Jagienka, while searching for the tinder and fire steel, began to excuse herself:
“I was worried about you, because Bezduch also went with a fork and an axe, but the bear tore him to pieces. If you met with such a misfortune, Macko would be very desolate, and he hardly breathes now. So I took a fork and came.”
“Then it was you whom I heard there behind the pines?”
“And I thought it was an evil spirit.”
“I was very much frightened, because it is dangerous to be without fire here around the Radzikowski marshes.”
“Then why did you not speak to me?”
“Because I was afraid you would send me away.”
Having said this, she again began to strike sparks from the steel, and put on the tinder a bundle of hemp which began to burn.
“I have two resinous pieces of wood,” said she; “you bring some dried branches quickly, and we will soon have a fire.”
In fact, after a while a bright fire was burning, and lighted the enormous, brown body of the bear which was lying in a pool of blood.
“Hej, a dreadful beast!” said Zbyszko, boastfully.
“You split his head entirely open! O, Jesus!”
Then she leaned over and felt of the bear’s body, to ascertain whether the beast was fat; then she arose with a bright face, and said:
“There will be plenty of grease for two years.”
“But the fork is broken, look!”
“That is too bad; what shall I tell them at home?”
“_Tatus_ would not let me come into the forest, therefore I was obliged to wait until everybody had retired.”
After a moment she added:
“You must not tell that I was here, because they will laugh at me.”
“But I will go with you to your house, because I am afraid the wolves will attack you, and you have no fork.”
Thus they sat talking for a while beside the bright fire, looking like two young forest creatures.
Zbyszko looked at the girl’s pretty face, lighted by the flames, and said with involuntary admiration:
“There is not another girl in this world as brave as you are. You ought to go to the war!”
She looked into his face and then she answered, almost sadly:
“I know; but you must not laugh at me.”
Jagienka herself melted a large pot of bear’s grease. Macko drank the first quart willingly, because it was fresh, and smelt good. Jagienka put the rest of it in a pot. Macko’s hope increased; he was sure he would be cured.
“That is what I needed,” said he. “When all parts inside of me become greasy, then that dog’s splinter will slip out.”
But the next quarts did not taste as well as the first; but he continued to drink it and Jagienka encouraged him, saying:
“You will get well. Zbilud of Ostrog had the links of a coat of mail driven into his neck; but they slipped out because he drank grease. But when your wound opens, you must put some grease of a beaver on it.”
“Have you some?”
“Yes, we have. But if it be necessary to have it fresh, we will go with Zbyszko and get a beaver. Meanwhile it would not do any harm, if you promised something to some saint, who is the patron for wounds.”
“I was thinking about that, but I do not know to whom I should make the promise. Saint George is the patron of knights; he protects the warrior from any accident and always gives him victory, and it is said that sometimes he fights personally for the one who is right. But a saint who fights willingly, does not heal willingly; and for that, there must be another saint with whom he would not want to interfere. It is known that every saint has his specialty. But they will not interfere with one another; because that would cause quarrels, and it is not proper to fight in heaven. There are Kosma and Damian to whom all doctors pray, that illness may exist; otherwise the doctors would not have anything to eat. There is Saint Apolonia for the teeth and Saint Liborius for stone; but they will not do for me. The abbot, when he comes, will tell me whom I must ask. Every _clericus_ does not know all celestial secrets and everyone of them is not familiar with such things, but the abbot is.”
“Suppose you make a vow to the Lord Jesus himself?”
“Of course he is over all of them. But suppose your father had injured my servant, and I went to Krakow to complain to the king; what would the king tell me? He would say thus: ‘I am monarch over all the country, and you complain to me about one of your peasants! Do you not have my officials in your part of the country; why did you not go to the castellan?’ So the Lord Jesus is the ruler over the whole universe; but for smaller affairs, he employs the saints.”
“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Zbyszko, who entered just now; “make a vow to our late queen, that if she intercede for you, you will make a pilgrimage to Krakow. Why should you search after strange saints, when we have our own lady, who is better than they?”
“Bah! if I only knew that she would intercede for wounds!”
“No matter! There is no saint who would dare to show her an angry face; or if he dared, Lord God would punish him for it, because she was not an ordinary woman, but a Polish queen.”
“Who converted the last heathen country to the Christian faith! That is right,” said Macko. “She must have a high place in God’s council and surely none would dare to oppose her. Therefore I will do as you say.”
This advice pleased Jagienka, who admired Zbyszko’s common sense very much. That same evening, Macko made a vow and drank with still greater hope, the bear’s grease. But after a week, he began to lose hope. He said that the grease was fermenting in his stomach, and that a lump was growing on his side near the last rib. At the end of ten days Macko was worse, and the lump grew larger and became inflamed. The sick man again had fever and began to make preparations for death.
But one night he awakened Zbyszko, and said:
“Light a piece of resinous wood; there is something the matter with me, but I do not know what.”
Zbyszko jumped up and lighted a piece of pine wood.
“What is it?”
“What is it! Something has pierced the lump on my side. It must be the head of the spear! I had hold of it, but I cannot pull it out.”
“It must be the spearhead! Nothing else. Grasp it well and pull.”
Macko began to turn and to twist with pain; but he pushed his fingers deeper and deeper, until he seized a hard substance which finally he pulled out.
“Have you pulled it out?” asked Zbyszko.
“Yes. I am in a cold perspiration all over; but I have it; look!”
Having said this, he showed to Zbyszko a long splinter, which had separated from the spear and remained in his body for several months.
“Glory be to God and to Queen Jadwiga! Now you will get well.”
“Perhaps; I am better, but it pains me greatly,” said Macko, pressing the wound from which blood and pus began to flow. “Jagienka said that now I ought to dress the wound with the grease of a beaver.”
“We will go to-morrow and get a beaver.”
Macko felt considerably better the next day. He slept till morning, and when he awoke, immediately asked for something to eat. He would not even look at the bear’s grease; but they cooked twenty eggs for him. He ate them voraciously, also a big loaf of bread, and drank about four quarts of beer; then he demanded that they call Zych, because he felt jovial.
Zbyszko sent one of the Turks, given to him by Zawisza, after Zych who mounted a horse and came in the afternoon when the young people were ready to go to the Odstajny lake to catch a beaver. At first there was plenty of laughter and singing, while they drank mead; but afterward the old _wlodykas_ began to talk about the children, each praising his own.
“What a man Zbyszko is!” said Macko; “there is no other like him in the world. He is brave and as agile as a wild-cat. Do you know that when they conducted him to the scaffold in Krakow, all the girls standing at the windows were crying, and such girls;–daughters of knights and of castellans, and also the beautiful townswomen.”
“They may be beautiful and the daughters of castellans, but they are not better than my Jagienka!” answered Zych of Zgorzelice.
“Did I say they were better? It will be difficult to find a better girl than Jagienka.”
“I do not say anything against Zbyszko either; he can stretch a crossbow without a crank.”
“He can underprop a bear also. Did you see how he cut the bear? He cut the head and one paw off.”
“He cut the head off, but he did not underprop it alone. Jagienka helped him.”
“Did she? He did not tell me about that.”
“Because he promised her not to tell anyone. The girl was ashamed because she went into the forest alone at night. She told me all about it; she never hides the truth. Frankly speaking, I was not pleased because who knows what might have happened. I wanted to scold her, but she said, ‘If I be not able to preserve my wreath myself, how can you preserve it, you _tatulu_; but do not fear, Zbyszko knows what knightly honor is.'”
“That is true. They have gone alone to-day also.”
“They will be back in the evening. But during the night, the devil is worse and the girl does not feel ashamed because of the darkness.”
Macko thought for a while; then he said as if to himself:
“But they are fond of each other.”
“Bah! it is a pity he made a vow to another!”
“That is, as you know, a knightly custom. They consider the one who has no lady, a churl. He also made a vow to capture some peacocks’ tufts, and those be must get because he swore by his knightly honor; he must also challenge Lichtenstein; but from the other vows, the abbot can release him.”
“The abbot is coming soon.”
“Do you expect him?” asked Macko; then he said again: “And what does such a vow amount to; Jurand told him positively that he could not give the girl to him! I do not know whether he had promised her to some one else, or whether he had destined her for God.”
“Have I told you that the abbot loves Jagienka as much as if she were his own? The last time I saw him he said: ‘I have no relations except those from my mother’s side; and they will receive nothing from me.'”
Here Macko looked at Zych suspiciously and after awhile he answered:
“Would you wrong us?”
“Jagienka will get Moczydoly,” said Zych evasively.
“Immediately. I would not give it to another; but I will do it for her.”
“Half of Bogdaniec belongs to Zbyszko, and if God restore my health, I will improve the estate. Do you love Zbyszko?”
Zych began to wink and said:
“When anybody mentions Zbyszko’s name in the presence of Jagienka, she immediately turns away.”
“And when you mention another?”
“When I mention another, she only laughs and says: ‘What then?'”
“Well, do you not see. God will help us and Zbyszko will forget about the other girl. I am old and I will forget also. Will you have some more mead?”
“Yes, I will.”
“Well, the abbot is a wise man! You know that some of the abbots are laymen; but this abbot, although he does not sit among the friars, is a priest just the same; and a priest can always give better advice than an ordinary man, because he knows how to read, and he communes with the Holy Ghost. I am glad that Jagienka is going to have the estate of Moczydoly. As for me, as soon as the Lord Jesus restores my health, I will try to induce some of the peasants living on the estate of Wilk of Brzozowa, to settle on my land. I will offer them more land, I have plenty of it in Bogdaniec. They can come if they wish to, for they are free. In time, I will build a _grodek_ in Bogdaniec, a worthy castle of oaks with a ditch around it. Let Zbyszko and Jagienka hunt together. I think we shall soon have snow. They will become accustomed to each other, and the boy will forget that other girl. Let them be together. Speak frankly; would you give Jagienka to him or not?”
“I would. Did we not decide a long time ago that they should marry, and that Moczydoly and Bogdaniec would be our grandchildren’s?”
“_Grady!_” exclaimed Macko, joyfully. “God will bless us and their children will be as numerous as hail. The abbot shall baptize them.”
“If he will only be quick enough!” exclaimed Zych. “I have not seen you so jolly as you are to-day for a long time.”
“Because I am glad in my heart. Do not fear about Zbyszko. Yesterday when Jagienka mounted her horse, the wind blew. I asked Zbyszko then: ‘Did you see?’ and his eyes shone. I have also noticed that although at first they did not speak much to each other, now when they go together, they are continually turning their heads toward each other, and they talk–talk! Have some more mead?”
“Yes, I will.”
“To Zbyszko and Jagienka’s health!”
The old _wlodyka_ was not mistaken when he said that Zbyszko and Jagienka were fond of each other, and even that they longed for each other. Jagienka pretending that she wanted to visit the sick Macko, went very often to Bogdaniec, either alone or with her father. Zbyszko also went often to Zgorzelice. In that way, after a few days a familiarity and friendship originated between them. They grew fond of each other and talked about everything that interested them. There was much mutual admiration in that friendship also. The young and handsome Zbyszko, who had already distinguished himself in the war, had participated in tournaments and had been in the presence of kings, was considered by the girl, when she compared him with Cztan of Rogow or Wilk of Brzozowa, a true courtly knight and almost a prince; as for him, he was astonished at the great beauty of the girl. He was loyal to Danusia; but very often when he looked suddenly at Jagienka, either in the forest or at home, he said involuntarily to himself: “Hej! what a girl!” When, helping her to mount her horse, he felt her elastic flesh under his hands, disquietude filled him and he shivered, and a torpor began to steal over him.
Jagienka, although naturally proud, inclined to raillery, and even aggressive, grew more and more gentle with him, often looking in his eyes to discover how she could please him; he understood her affection; he was grateful for it and he liked to be with her more and more. Finally, especially after Macko began to drink the bear’s grease, they saw each other almost every day; when the splinter came out of the wound, they went together to get some fresh beaver’s grease, necessary for the healing of the wound.
They took their crossbows, mounted their horses and went first to Moczydoly, destined for Jagienka’s dowry, then to the edge of the forest, where they entrusted the horses to a servant and went on foot, because it was impossible to pass through the thicket on horseback. While walking, Jagienka pointed to the large meadow covered with reeds and to the blue ribbon of forest and said:
“Those woods belong to Cztan of Rogow.”
“The same man who would like to take you?”
She began to laugh:
“He would if he could!”
“You can defend yourself very easily, having for your defence the Wilk who, as I understand, gnashes his teeth at Cztan. I wonder that they have not challenged each other to fight until death.”
“They have not because _tatulo_ before he went to the war said to them: ‘If you fight about Jagienka I do not want to see you any more.’ How could they fight then? When they are in Zgorzelice they scowl at each other; but afterward they drink together in an inn in Krzesnia until they are drunk.”
“Because while Zych was away one of them should have taken you by force. What could Zych do, if when he returned he had found you with a baby on your lap?”
At this Jagienka’s blue eyes flashed immediately.
“Do you think I would let them take me? Have we not people in Zgorzelice, and do I not know how to manage a crossbow or a boar-spear? Let them try! I would chase them back home and even attack them in Rogow or Brzozowa. Father knew very well that he could go to the war and leave me home alone.”
Speaking thus, she frowned, and shook the crossbow threateningly, so that Zbyszko began to laugh, and said:
“You ought to have been a knight and not a girl.”
She becoming calmer, answered:
“Cztan guarded me from Wilk and Wilk from Cztan. Then I was also under the abbot’s tutelage, and it is well for everyone to let the abbot alone.”
“Owa!” answered Zbyszko. “They are all afraid of the abbot! But I, may Saint George help me to speak the truth to you, I would neither be afraid of the abbot, nor of your peasants, nor of yourself; I would take you!”
At this Jagienka stopped on the spot, and fixing her eyes on Zbyszko, asked in a strange, soft, low voice:
“You would take me?”
Then her lips parted and blushing like the dawn, she waited for his answer.
But he evidently was only thinking what he would do, were he in Cztan or Wilk’s position; because after a while, he shook his golden hair and said further:
“A girl must marry and not fight with the boys. Unless you have a third one, you must choose one of these two.”
“You must not tell me that,” answered the girl, sadly.
“Why not? I have been away from home for a long time, therefore I do not know whether there is somebody around Zgorzelice, of whom you are fond or not.”
“Hej!” answered Jagienka. “Let it be!”
They walked along silently, trying to make their way through the thicket which was now much denser because the bushes and the trees were covered with wild hop vines. Zbyszko walked first, tearing down the green vines, and breaking the branches here and there; Jagienka followed him with a crossbow on her shoulder, looking like a hunting goddess.
“Beyond that thicket,” said she, “there is a deep brook; but I know where the ford is.”
“I have long boots on, reaching above my knees; we can cross it,” answered Zbyszko.
Shortly afterward, they reached the brook. Jagienka being familiar with the Moczydlowski forests, very easily found the ford; but the water was deeper than usual, the little brook being swollen by the rains. Then Zbyszko without asking her permission, seized the girl in his arms.
“I can cross by myself,” said Jagienka.
“Put your arms around my neck!” answered Zbyszko.
He walked slowly through the water, while the girl nestled to him. Finally when they were near the other shore, she said:
“I care neither for Cztan, nor for Wilk.”
As he placed her on the shore, he answered excitedly:
“May God give you the best I He will not be wronged.”
The Odstajny lake was not far away now. Jagienka walking in front, turned from time to time, and putting a finger on her lips, ordered Zbyszko to be silent. They were walking amidst the osiers and gray willows, on low, damp ground. From the left side, were heard the voices of birds, and Zbyszko was surprised at that, because it was time for the birds to migrate.
“We are near a morass which is never frozen,” whispered Jagienka; “the ducks pass the winter there; even in the lake the water freezes only near the shores. See how it is steaming.”
Zbyszko looked through the willows and noticed in front of him, something like a bank of fog; it was the Odstajny lake.
Jagienka again put a finger to her lips, and after a while they reached the lake. The girl climbed on an old willow and bent over the water. Zbyszko followed her example; and for a long time they remained quiet, seeing nothing in front of them, on account of the fog; hearing nothing but the mournful puling of lapwings. Finally the wind blew, rustled the osiers and the yellow leaves of the willows, and disclosed the waters of the lake which were slightly ruffled by the wind.
“Do you see anything?” whispered Zbyszko.
“No. Keep quiet!”
After a while, the wind ceased and complete silence followed. Then on the surface of the lake appeared one head, then another; finally near them a big beaver entered the water from the shore, carrying in his mouth a newly cut branch, and began to swim amidst the duck-weed and marigold holding his mouth out of the water and pushing the branch before him. Zbyszko lying on the trunk beneath Jagienka, noticed that her elbow moved quietly and that her head was bent forward; evidently she had aimed at the animal which, not suspecting any danger, was swimming close by, toward the clear water.
Finally the string of the crossbow twanged and at the same moment Jagienka cried:
“I hit him! I hit him!”
Zbyszko instantly climbed higher and looked through the thicket toward the water; the beaver plunged into the water, then reappeared on the surface, turning somersets.
“I hit him hard! He will soon be quiet!” said Jagienka.
The movements of the animal grew slower, and then before one had time sufficient to recite one “_Ave Maria_,” he was floating on his back on the surface of the water.
“I will go and get him,” said Zbyszko.
“No, do not go. Here, near the shore, there is, deep slime. Anyone who does not know how to manage, will surely drown.”
“Then how will we get him?”
“He will be in Bogdaniec this evening, do not worry about that; now we must go home.”
“You hit him hard!”
“Bah! It is not the first one!”
“Other girls are afraid to even look at a crossbow; but with you, one can go to the forest all his life.”
Jagienka smiled at such praise, but she did not answer; they returned the same way they came. Zbyszko asked her about the beavers and she told him how many of them there were in Moczydoly, and how many in Zgorzelice.
Suddenly she struck her hip with her hand and exclaimed:
“Well, I left my arrows on the willow. Wait!”
Before he could say that he would return for them, she jumped back like a roe and disappeared. Zbyszko waited and waited; at last he began to wonder what detained her so long.
“She must have lost the arrows and is searching for them,” he said to himself; “but I will go and see whether anything has happened to her.”
He had hardly started to return before the girl appeared with her bow in her hand, her face smiling and blushing, and with the beaver on her shoulders.
“For God’s sake!” cried Zbyszko, “how did you get him?”
“How? I went into the water, that is all! It is nothing new for me; but I did not want you to go, because the mud drags anyone down who does not know how to swim in it.”
“And I waited here like a fool! You are a sly girl.”
“Well, could I undress before you?”
“Bah! If I had followed you, then I would have seen a wonder!”
“I was just starting, so help me God!”
After a while, wishing to turn the conversation, she said:
“Wring my tress; it makes my back wet.”
Zbyszko caught the tress in one hand and began to wring with the other, saying:
“The best way will be to unbraid it, then the wind will soon dry it.”
But she did not wish to do that on account of the thicket through which they were obliged to make their way. Zbyszko now put the beaver on his shoulders. Jagienka walking in front of him, said:
“Now Macko will soon be well, because there is no better medicine for a wound than the grease of a bear inside, and the grease of a beaver outside. In about two weeks, he will be able to ride a horse.”
“May God grant that!” answered Zbyszko. “I am waiting for it as for salvation, because I cannot leave the sick man, and it is hard for me to stay here.”
“Why is it hard for you to stay here?” she asked him.
“Has Zych told you nothing about Danusia?”
“He did tell me something. I know that she covered you with her veil. I know that! He told me also that every knight makes some vow, to serve his lady. But he said that such a vow did not amount to anything; that some of the knights were married, but they served their ladies just the same. But Danusia, Zbyszko; tell me about her!”
Having come very close to him, she began to look at his face with great anxiety; he did not pay any attention to her frightened voice and looks, but said:
“She is my lady, and at the same time she is my sweetest love. I have not spoken about her to anybody; but I am going to tell you, because we have been acquainted since we were children. I will follow her beyond the tenth river and beyond the tenth sea, to the Germans and to the Tartars, because there is no other girl like her. Let my uncle remain in Bogdaniec, and I will go to her. What do I care about Bogdaniec, the household, the herds, or the abbot’s wealth, without her! I will mount my horse and I will go, so help me God; I will fulfill that which I promised her, or I will die.”
“I did not know,” answered Jagienka, in a hollow voice.
Zbyszko began to tell her about all that had happened; how he had met Danusia in Tyniec; how he had made a vow to her; about everything that happened afterward; about his imprisonment, and how Danusia rescued him; about Jurand’s refusal, their farewell and his loneliness; finally about his joy, because as soon as Macko became well, he would go to his beloved girl. His story was interrupted at last by the sight of the servant with the horses, waiting on the edge of the forest.
Jagienka immediately mounted her horse and began to bid Zbyszko good-bye.
“Let the servant follow you with the beaver; I am going to Zgorzelice.”
“Then you will not go to Bogdaniec? Zych is there.”
“No. _Tatulo_ said he would return and told me to go home.”
“Well, may God reward you for the beaver.”
Then Jagienka was alone. Going home through the heaths, she looked back for a while after Zbyszko; when he disappeared beyond the trees, she covered her eyes with her hands as if sheltering them from the sunlight. But soon large tears began to flow down her cheeks and drop one after another on the horse’s mane.
After the conversation with Zbyszko, Jagienka did not appear in Bogdaniec for three days; but on the third day she hurried in with the news that the abbot had arrived at Zgorzelice. Macko received the news with emotion. It is true he had money enough to pay the amount for which the estate was pledged, and he calculated that he would have enough to induce settlers to come, to buy herds and to make other improvements; but in the whole transaction, much depended on the disposition of the rich relation, who, for instance, could take or leave the peasants settled by him on the land, and in that way increase or diminish the value of the estate.
Therefore Macko asked Jagienka about the abbot; how he was; if he was in a good humor or gloomy; what he had said about them; when he was coming to Bogdaniec? She gave him sensible answers, trying to encourage and tranquillize him in every respect.
She said that the abbot was in good health and gay; that he was accompanied by a considerable retinue in which, besides the armed servants, there were several seminarists and _rybalts_; that he sang with Zych and that he listened gladly not only to the spiritual but to the worldly songs also. She had noticed also that he asked carefully about Macko, and that he listened eagerly to Zych’s narration of Zbyszko’s adventure in Krakow.
“You know best what you ought to do,” finally the clever girl said; “but I think that Zbyszko ought to go immediately and greet his elder relative, and not wait until the abbot comes to Bogdaniec.”
Macko liked the advice; therefore he called Zbyszko and said to him:
“Dress yourself beautifully; then go and bow to the abbot, and pay him respect; perhaps he will take a fancy to you.”
Then he turned to Jagienka:
“I would not be surprised if you were stupid, because you are a woman; but I am astonished to find that you have such good sense. Tell me then, the best way to receive the abbot when he comes here.”
“As for food, he will tell you himself what he wishes to have; he likes to feast well, but if there be a great deal of saffron in the food, he will eat anything.”
Macko hearing this, said:
“How can I get saffron for him!”
“I brought some,” said Jagienka.
“Give us more such girls!” exclaimed the overjoyed Macko. “She is pretty, a good housekeeper, intelligent and good-hearted! Hej! if I were only younger I would take her immediately!”
Here Jagienka glanced at Zbyszko, and having sighed slightly, she said further:
“I brought also the dice, the goblet and the cloth, because after his meal, the abbot likes to play dice.”
“He had the same habit formerly, and he used to get very angry.”
“He gets angry sometimes now; then he throws the goblet on the ground and rushes from the room into the fields. Then he comes back smiling, and laughs at his anger. You know him! If one does not contradict him, you cannot find a better man in the world.”
“And who would contradict him; is he not wiser and mightier than others?”
Thus they talked while Zbyszko was dressing in the alcove. Finally he came out, looking so beautiful that he dazzled Jagienka, as much as he did the first time he went to Zgorzelice in his white _jaka_. She regretted that this handsome knight was not hers, and that he was in love with another girl.
Macko was pleased because he thought that the abbot could not help liking Zbyszko and would be more lenient during their business transaction. He was so much pleased with this idea, that he determined to go also.
“Order the servants to prepare a wagon,” said he to Zbyszko. “If I could travel from Krakow to Bogdaniec with an iron in my side, surely I can go now to Zgorzelice.”
“If you only will not faint,” said Jagienka.
“Ej! I will be all right, because I feel stronger already. And even if I faint, the abbot will see that I hastened to meet him, and will be more generous.”
“I prefer your health to his generosity!” said Zbyszko.
But Macko was persistent and started for Zgorzelice. On the road he moaned a little, but he continued to give Zbyszko advice; he told him how to act in Zgorzelice, and especially recommended him to be obedient and humble in the presence of their mighty relative, who never would suffer the slightest opposition.
When they came to Zgorzelice, they found Zych and the abbot sitting in front of the house, looking at the beautiful country, and drinking wine. Behind them, near the wall, sat six men of the abbot’s retinue; two of them were _rybalts_; one was a pilgrim, who could easily be distinguished by his curved stick and dark mantle; the others looked like seminarists because their heads were shaved, but they wore lay clothing, girdles of ox leather, and swords.
When Zych perceived Macko coming in the wagon, he rushed toward him; but the abbot, evidently remembering his spiritual dignity, remained seated, and began to say something to his seminarists. Zbyszko and Zych conducted the sick Macko toward the house.
“I am not well yet,” said Macko, kissing the abbot’s hand, “but I came to bow to you, my benefactor; to thank you for your care of Bogdaniec, and to beg you for a benediction, which is most necessary for a sinful man.”
“I heard you were better,” said the abbot, placing his hand on Macko’s head; “and that you had promised to go to the grave of our late queen.”
“Not knowing which saint’s protection to ask for, I made a vow to her.”
“You did well!” said the abbot, enthusiastically; “she is better than all the others, if one only dare beseech her!”
In a moment his face became flushed with anger, his cheeks filled with blood, his eyes began to sparkle.
They were so used to his impetuosity, that Zych began to laugh and exclaimed:
“Strike, who believes in God!”
As for the abbot, he puffed loudly, and looked at those present; then laughed suddenly, and having looked at Zbyszko, he asked:
“Is that your nephew and my relation?”
Zbyszko bent and kissed his hand.
“I saw him when he was a small boy; I did not recognize him,” said the abbot. “Show yourself!” And he began to look at him from head to foot, and finally said:
“He is too handsome! It is a girl, not a knight!”
“To this Macko replied:
“That girl used to go to dancing parties with the Germans; but those who took her, fell down and did not rise again.”
“And he can stretch a crossbow without a crank!” exclaimed Jagienka.
The abbot turned toward her:
“Ah! Are you here?”
She blushed so much that her neck and ears became red, and answered:
“I saw him do it.”
“Look out then, that he does not shoot you, because you will be obliged to nurse yourself for a long time.”
At this the _rybalts_, the pilgrim and the seminarists broke out with great laughter, which confused Jagienka still more; the abbot took pity on her, and having raised his arm, he showed her his enormous sleeve, and said:
“Hide here, my dear girl!”
Meanwhile Zych assisted Macko to the bench and ordered some wine for him. Jagienka went to get it. The abbot turned to Zbyszko and began to talk thus:
“Enough of joking! I compared you to a girl, not to humiliate you, but to praise your beauty, of which many girls would be proud. But I know that you are a man! I have heard about your deeds at Wilno, about the Fryzes, and about Krakow. Zych has told me all about it, understand!”
Here he began to look intently into Zbyszko’s eyes, and after a while he said:
“If you have promised three peacocks’ tufts, then search for them! It is praiseworthy and pleasing to God to persecute the foes of our nation. But, if you have promised something else, I will release you from the vow.”
“Hej!” said Zbyszko; “when a man promises something in his soul to the Lord Jesus, who has the power to release him?”
Macko looked with fear at the abbot; but evidently he was in an excellent humor, because instead of becoming angry, he threatened Zbyszko with his finger and said:
“How clever you are! But you must be careful that you do not meet the same fate that the German, Beyhard, did.”
“What happened to him?” asked Zych.
“They burned him on a pile.”
“Because he used to say that a layman could understand God’s secrets as well as the clergy.”
“They punished him severely!”
“But righteously!” shouted the abbot, “because he had blasphemed against the Holy Ghost. What do you think? Is a layman able to interpret any of God’s secrets?”
“He cannot by any means!” exclaimed the wandering seminarists, together.
“Keep quiet, you _shpilmen_!” said the abbot; “you are not ecclesiastics, although your heads are shaved.”
“We are not ‘_shpilmen_,’ but courtiers of Your Grace,” answered one of them, looking toward a large bucket from which the smell of hops and malt was filling the air.
“Look! He is talking from a barrel!” exclaimed the abbot. “Hej, you shaggy one! Why do you look at the bucket? You will not find any Latin at the bottom of that.”
“I am not looking for Latin, but for beer; but I cannot find any.”
The abbot turned toward Zbyszko, who was looking with astonishment at such courtiers as these, and said:
“They are _clerici scholares_; but every one of them prefers to throw his books aside, and taking his lute, wander through the world. I shelter and nourish them; what else can I do? They are good for nothing, but they know how to sing and they are familiar with God’s service; therefore I have some benefit out of them in my church, and in case of need, they will defend me, because some of them are fierce fellows! This pilgrim says that he was in the Holy Land; but I have asked him in vain about some of the seas and countries; he does not know even the name of the Greek emperor nor in what city he lives.”
“I did know,” said the pilgrim, in a hoarse voice; “but the fever I caught at the Danube, shook everything out of me.”
“What surprises me most is, that they wear swords, being wandering seminarists,” said Zbyszko.
“They are allowed to wear them,” said the abbot, “because they have not received orders yet; and there is no occasion for anyone to wonder because I wear a sword even though I am an abbot. A year ago I challenged Wilk of Brzozowa to fight for the forests which you passed; but he did not appear.”
“How could he fight with one of the clergy?” interrupted Zych.
At this the abbot became angry, struck the table with his fist, and exclaimed:
“When I wear armor, then I am not a priest, but a nobleman! He did not come because he preferred to have his servants attack me in Tulcza. That is why I wear a sword: _Omnes leges, omniaque iura vim vi repellere cunctisque sese defensare permittunt!_ That is why I gave them their swords.”
Hearing the Latin, Zych, Macko and Zbyszko became silent and bent their heads before the abbot’s wisdom, because they did not understand a word of it; as for the abbot, he looked very angry for a while, and then he said:
“Who knows but what he will attack me even here?”
“Owa! Let him come!” exclaimed the wandering seminarists, seizing the hilts of their swords.
“I would like to have him attack me! I am longing for a fight.”
“He will not do that,” said Zych. “It is more likely that he will come to bow to you. He gave up the forests, and now he is anxious about his son. You know! But he can wait a long time!”
Meanwhile the abbot became quieted and said:
“I saw young Wilk drinking with Cztan of Rogow in an inn in Krzesnia. They did not recognize us at once, because it was dark; they were talking about Jagienka.”
Here he turned to Zbyszko:
“And about you, too.”
“What do they want from me?”
“They do not want anything from you; but they do not like it that there is a third young man near Zgorzelice. Cztan said to Wilk: ‘After I tan his skin, he will not be so smooth.’ And Wilk said: ‘Perhaps he will be afraid of us; if not, I will break his bones!’ Then they assured each other that you would be afraid of them.”
Hearing this Macko looked at Zych, and Zych looked at him; their faces expressed great cunning and joy. Neither of them was sure whether the abbot had really heard such a conversation, or whether he was only saying this to excite Zbyszko; but they both knew, and Macko especially, that there was no better way to incite Zbyszko to try to win Jagienka.
The abbot added deliberately:
“It is true, they are fierce fellows!”
Zbyszko did not show any excitement; but he asked in a strange tone that did not sound like his voice:
“To-morrow is Sunday?”
“You will go to church?”
“Where? to Krzesnia?”
“That is the nearest!”
“Well, all right then!”