Sunday, August 17, 2008

1.12 (Chap. 12)

Zbyszko went to hunt for the bear as he said, because Macko got worse. At first when he came back to Bogdaniec, he got better from the joy and house chores, but on the third day, the fever returned and the pain was so great that he had to go to bed. Zbyszko went to the hive during the day, and while there he found 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 dogs but was about to return to the village for the winter because it was getting cold.

They took apart 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 beast. Zbyszko returned home and began to prepare for the hunt. 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, 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 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. 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, armed with the military 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 darkness was complete now. The wind stopped blowing and there was not even the usual whispering in the tops of the pine trees. From time to time, a pinecone fell, making quite a noise amidst the deep silence; but in general, everything was so quiet that Zbyszko heard his own breathing.

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 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 in his thoughts:

"I will come to you, because I cannot live without you."

He felt that he must go to Masovia; that if he remained in Bogdaniec, he would become good for nothing. He recollected Jurand and his strange opposition, and 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, Zbyszko! Come!" How could he refuse?

He was not sleeping, but he saw her as distinctly as in a vision or 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 to see if he is not rushing after them – and he is sitting in the dark forest.

Here 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 and such quiet stillness enveloped that Zbyszko's ears began to ring; then again, slow, careful steps were heard. That approach was so cautious that Zbyszko was surprised.

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